Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells develop in a woman's cervix. While the cause is not known, most people diagnosed with cervical cancer also have the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). That's why women who have had multiple sexual partners or who started having sex at a young age are at higher risk for cervical cancer.
Other risk factors to consider:
- Women who smoke are more likely to develop cervical cancer
- African American, Hispanic and Native American women are at greater risk for developing cervical cancer
- Women who have had an STD are at higher risk for cervical cancer
What you can do to prevent and treat cervical cancer
Help reduce your risk for developing cervical cancer:
- Practice safe sex. Using condoms may reduce the risk of cervical cancer and HPV. Condoms may not completely protect you, though. The best protection against HPV is abstinence from sex, or only having sex with one uninfected, monogamous partner.
- Get regular screenings. Use UnitedHealthcare's online toolOpens a new window to get up-to-date information on recommended screening schedules, based on age and gender. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for cervical cancer in women ages 21 to 65 years with cytology (Pap smear) every 3 years or, for women ages 30 to 65 years who want to lengthen the screening interval, screening with a combination of cytology and human papillomavirus (HPV) testing every 5 years.
- Ask for the HPV vaccine. The new vaccine is recommended for females ages 11-12, with a catch-up vaccination available for females ages 13-26.
- Quit smoking. As with other cancers, smoking greatly increases your risk for cervical cancer.
Caught early, cervical cancer can be treated. Your doctor can recommend treatment options, such as surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, that are right for you.
How to talk to your doctor
There are often no early symptoms of cervical cancer or HPV. That's why it's important to discuss risk factors with your doctor and get regular screenings.
If you've had cervical cancer for a while without being aware of it, you may see signs such as unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge. Tell your doctor about these symptoms right away.
And if you are younger than 26 or have a daughter who is between the ages of 9 and 26, ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine.