Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. Cancer is always named for the part of the body where it starts, even if it spreads to other body parts later. When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer. The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus. The cervix connects the vagina (birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus. The uterus (or womb) is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant.
Cervical cancer is highly preventable because screening tests and a vaccine to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) infections are available. When cervical cancer is found early, it is highly treatable and associated with long survival and good quality of life. HPV is a very common infection that spreads through sexual activity and causes almost all cases of cervical cancer. Approximately, 79 million Americans currently have HPV. Many people with HPV don't know they are infected. And each year, more than 11,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer.
To support Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend the following:
- Get regular screenings beginning at age 21 and/or encourage women to get their annual well-woman visit each year. 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.
- Get the HPV vaccine. It protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. It is recommended for preteens (both boys and girls) aged 11 to 12 years, but can be given as early as age 9 and until age 26. The vaccine is given in a series of either two or three shots, depending on age. It is important to note that even women who are vaccinated against HPV need to have regular Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer.
- Practice safe sex. Using condoms and limiting your number of sexual partners may reduce the risk of cervical cancer and HPV.
- Quit smoking. As with other cancers, smoking greatly increases your risk for cervical cancer.
For more information on cervical cancer, please visit the District of Columbia Department of Health website page dedicated to Breast and Cervical Cancer ( Project WISH) at https://doh.dc.gov/service/breast-and-cervical-cancer-program-project-wish or see the CDC Cervical Cancer Factsheet.