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Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is a gynecological cancer that begins in a woman's cervix.  Each year approximately 12,000 women will develop cervical cancer.  Cervical cancer occurs most often in women over the age of 30. 

What causes cervical cancer?

The human papillomavirus or HPV is the primary cause of cervical cancer.  HPV is a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sexual activity.  At least 50 percent of sexually active individuals will acquire HPV at some point in their lives; however, few women will develop cervical cancer.

What are the signs and symptoms?

In the early stages of cervical cancer, there may not be any signs or symptoms.  Signs and symptoms associated with cervical cancer include:

  • abnormal vaginal bleeding;
  • unusual discharge from the vagina; and
  • pain during vaginal intercourse.

Are there cervical cancer tests?

There are two tests that can prevent cervical cancer or identify it in early stages. The tests are:

  • A Pap test or Pap smear – looks for precancers or cell changes on the cervix that can be treated before they become cancer.  A Pap test can also find cervical cancer in early stages when treatment is the most effective.  The Pap test is recommended for women 21-65.
  • The HPV test – tests for the presence of the HPV, the virus that is the main cause of precancerous cell changes and cervical cancer.

How can cervical cancer be prevented?

  • Get the HPV vaccine. It is recommended for 11- and 12- year- old girls and boys.  It is also recommended for girls/women 13 to 26 and boys/men 13-21 who have not had any or all of the series of shots when they were younger.
  • See your doctor regularly for a Pap test. Follow up with your doctor if the Pap test does results are not normal.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Use condoms during sex.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners.

Are free or low-cost Pap tests available?

If you have a low income, do not have insurance or are underinsured, you may be eligible for a free or low-cost Pap test.  Please visit the PA Breast and Cervical Early Detection Program page for more information.

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