Protect Yourself from Cervical Cancer

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Cervical cancer is in many ways unlike other cancers. It strikes women in midlife when they are
often taking care of families. Cervical cancer is also one of the few types of cancers that is
caused by a virus.

Fortunately, cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and also, when caught and
treated early, one of the most curable cancers. Now is the perfect time to educate yourself
about this disease and what you can do to protect yourself.

Every year in the United States, more than 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer
and 4,000 women die from the disease. More African American women die from cervical cancer
than any other racial group in the United States. It is time to stand up to this disease and
change these statistics. It is especially important for African American women to learn how to
prevent this disease.

One of the most important steps in preventing cervical cancer is to have regular Pap tests. The
Papanicolaou test (sometimes called Pap smear or cervical smear) is used to find cell changes
in the cervix that can be treated before they turn into cervical cancer. A Pap test also can find
cancer early. The earlier that cervical cancer is found, the easier it is to treat. A Pap test is
usually painless and is easily done in a doctor's office or clinic during a pelvic exam.

A test for human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes cervical cancer, is also available.
The HPV test can be useful for screening for cervical cancer in women age 30 and older when
done together with a Pap test. It can also be used for women of all ages who have certain
abnormal Pap test results. There are over 100 types of HPV, more than 30 of which can spread
through genital contact. Some sexually transmitted HPV types cause genital warts, and others
cause cervical cancer. The HPV test examines cervical cells for the types of HPV that cause
cancer.

Genital HPV infections are very common and are sexually transmitted. Many people who have
an HPV infection may not be aware of it. Most HPV infections occur without any symptoms or
problems and go away on their own without leading to cancer. Some infections can persist for
many years and may or may not cause cell changes. Infections that cause cell changes can
increase the risk for developing cervical cancer.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved two vaccines, Gardasil® and Cervarix®,
to prevent infection with the types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer. Gardasil 
also protects against infection with the HPV types that cause most genital warts. Both vaccines
are most effective if they are given before an individual is sexually active. Gardasil is approved
for use in females and males ages 9 through 26, and Cervarix is approved for use in females
ages 10 through 25. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention recommends routine HPV vaccination of females aged 11 or 12
years with three doses of HPV vaccine (vaccination can begin at age 9). HPV vaccination is
also recommended for females aged 13 through 26 years who have not been previously
vaccinated or who have not completed the full vaccination series. It is important to talk to your
doctor or health care provider to determine if the vaccine is right for you or a loved one. You can
learn more about the HPV vaccine at http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/risk/HPVvaccine.

Due to routine screening, cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates in the United States
have declined greatly over the last few decades. You too can protect yourself from this
devastating disease. The National Cancer Institute is available to help by offering the latest
news and information about cervical and other cancers. To learn more, call 1-800-4-CANCER to
speak with a Cancer Information Specialist. If you prefer to search the Internet, visit the primary
Spanish language Web site of the NCI, www.cancer.gov/espanol. Our site links you to a wide
variety of cancer education and awareness materials, from publications to updates about
research. Now is the time to take action and live a healthier life!

NCI leads the National Cancer Program and the NIH effort to dramatically reduce the burden of
cancer and improve the lives of cancer patients and their families, through research into
prevention and cancer biology, the development of new interventions, and the training and
mentoring of new researchers. For more information about cancer, please visit the NCI Web site
at www.cancer.gov or call NCI's Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-
6237).

Helpful Links

• What You Need to Know about Cancer of the Cervix
(http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/cervix)
• NCI's Cancer Information Service (http://www.cancer.gov/aboutnci/cis)
• HPV Fact Sheet (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/HPV)

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