Each year nearly 13,000 women in the U.S. develop cervical cancer, and 4,000 lose their lives to the disease.  Globally the numbers are even more striking, with over half a million cases of cervical cancer occurring world-wide. That’s not counting the vast number of women who are diagnosed with cervical pre-cancers, which, while usually very manageable, still require follow-up exams and often even treatment.

High-risk

Most cervical cancers are caused by infections with high-risk types of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Most sexually active people will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetimes, and most cases are harmless, never detected, and are cleared naturally by the immune system. It doesn’t always work so neatly, of course, and a high-risk HPV infection that doesn’t clear puts a woman at risk.

"Each year nearly 13,000 women in the U.S. develop cervical cancer, and 4,000 lose their lives to the disease."

The good news is we have the tools to prevent virtually all cases of cervical cancer. The key is to use them.

Vaccines

Vaccines are available that block the HPV types most often found with cervical (and anal) cancers. HPV vaccines are safe, effective, and can be given to males and females beginning at age 9; they are most effective when given at a young age, before someone becomes sexually active. We need to do a better job in getting adolescents and young adults vaccinated, though: fewer than half of adolescent girls have had all three doses of the vaccine. With boys, only about 14 percent have completed the three-dose series

Screening tests

Traditionally, cervical cancer screening has meant having a Pap test. Women should be checked with a Pap, but now HPV tests (that actually find the DNA of the virus) are part of the cervical cancer prevention toolkit, too.

Talk with your health care provider to see how often you should be checked for cervical cancer and which tests are recommended for you. With regular check-ups, most cases of early cervical cancers and pre-cancers can be caught and treated effectively.  What matters is that you start the conversation. Talk to your health care provider, see what they recommend for you, and stick to it.