The most important risk factor for cervical cancer is infection with human papilloma virus (HPV). That is why DNA tests are now recommended in conjunction with a Pap smear for women who are 30 to 65 years of age.
According to the National Cancer Institute, additional factors can further raise cervical cancer risk after an HPV infection. These include having many children, long-term oral contraceptive use, and chronic inflammation.
Increased risk is also associated with beginning sexual intercourse at an early age, having multiple sexual partners, infrequent Pap smears, cigarette smoking, a history of DES exposure, previous diagnosis of cervical cancer, compromised immune system from organ transplant or HIV, and the presence of other sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes.
2. Do I need cervical cancer testing even if I've had the HPV vaccine?
Because an HPV vaccine does not protect against all cervical cancers, women who have had the vaccine still need routine screening.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two vaccines for use in girls and women ages 9 to 26 to prevent cervical cancer. Both protect against HPV types 16 and 18, which cause 70% of cervical cancers, and HPV types 6 and 11, which cause about 90% of genital warts. The vaccines are given in three doses over a period of six months. The vaccines are effective only if received before an initial exposure to the virus, so girls and women should get them before becoming sexually active.
A single "abnormal" Pap smear does not necessarily indicate that cancer is present. The membranes covering the cervix undergo constant changes and repair. While treatment may not be necessary, the situation should be monitored closely. This may require a repeat Pap smear every three to six months until the situation is resolved.
Cervical cancer is a slow, progressive disease and may take years to advance beyond the cervix. Because of this fact, regular gynecologic examinations are necessary to spot precancerous cells and allow removal of affected tissue. Regular exams can also detect cervical cancer early if it does develop. With early detection, cervical cancer is easier to treat. Left unchecked, however, it is almost always fatal.
Treatment of cervical cancer depends on the stage of the disease. When the cancer is either limited to the lining of the cervix or contained within the cervix, treatments generally include surgical removal of abnormal tissue, cryotherapy (freezing abnormal tissue), or laser technology.
Interventions for more invasive cervical cancer may include surgery to remove the affected tissue and organs, radiation treatments to destroy any remaining cancerous cells, chemotherapy, or hysterectomy.
If you are diagnosed with cervical cancer, be aware that treatments for the disease are constantly evolving. Talk to your doctor and work with him or her as well as a gynecologic oncologist (a doctor who specializes in cancer of the reproductive organs) to choose a treatment plan that is best for you.
This article was last reviewed on June 11, 2012. | This article was last modified on March 27, 2015.
The review date indicates when the article was last reviewed from beginning to end to ensure that it reflects the most current science. A review may not require any modifications to the article, so the two dates may not always agree.
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