Since infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most important risk factor for cervical cancer and precancers, it is important to avoid genital HPV infection. This may mean delaying sex, limiting the number of sex partners, and avoiding a sex partner who has had several other partners. Condoms are important to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, but they can't give full protection against HPV since there may be skin to skin contact of exposed areas which can transmit the virus.
Two vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, have been approved for use in girls and young women to help prevent cervical cancer. Gardasil immunizes against certain strains of HPV which cause 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital wart cases and is effective for at least five years. Cervarix is effective against the two main strains of HPV virus that causes cervical cancer and last for over six years.
If you smoke, stop. Smoking increases the risk of cervical cancer by two to five times. This is due to smoking causing a decrease in the function of your immune system and the byproducts of smoking, which are often identified in cervical cancer specimens.
A Pap test is recommended every three years starting when women reach 21 years of age.
Combining a Pap test with a human papillomavirus (HPV) test can safely extend the interval between cervical cancer screenings from three years to five years in many women between the ages of 30 and 65, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).
Also according to USPSTF guidelines, HPV testing is not recommended for women in their 20s because people in that age group can have HPV infections that resolve without treatment.
Women over age 65 can stop getting screened if they’ve had at least three consecutive negative Pap tests or at least two negative HPV tests within the previous 10 years, according to the guidelines. But women who have a history of a more advanced precancer diagnosis should continue to be screened for at least 10 to 20 years.