Most cervical cancers can be prevented by preventing precancers and having regular Pap tests. Preventing precancers means controlling these risk factors:
- Delaying first sexual intercourse until the late teens or older
- Limiting the number of sex partners
- Avoiding sexual intercourse with people who have had many partners
- Avoiding sexual intercourse with people who are obviously infected with genital warts or show other symptoms
- Having safe sex by using condoms will reduce the risk of HPV infection, and will protect against HIV and AIDS
- Quitting smoking
The Pap test is the most common test for cervical cancer. Researchers have found that combining it with a test to detect HPV provides the most accurate results.
All women should begin having Pap tests at age 21. Women over the age of 30 with three consecutive normal test results can consider lengthening their screening intervals to every two to three years.
Women with specific medical conditions, such as infection with HIV, should be screened more often.
Women over the age of 70 can discontinue screening if they have had three normal Pap tests within the previous 10 years. Certain medical conditions, such as HIV infection, are cause for the continuation of routine screening.
Screening after a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) is not necessary unless the surgery was done to treat cervical cancer or precancers. Women who have had a hysterectomy without removal of the cervix should continue to be examined until age 70.