Can I Prevent Cervical Cancer?

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on August 25, 2020

Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that’s almost totally preventable. It comes down to avoiding human papillomavirus, or HPV, which is sexually transmitted.

HPV is the top cause of cervical cancer. But it doesn’t always cause the disease. Many people have HPV and don’t develop cervical cancer.

If you’re sexually active, keep up with your doctor appointments. Your Pap or HPV tests can find abnormal cells in your cervix before the cancer starts.

There’s also an HPV vaccine that you might want to get. It targets some of the strains of HPV that are the riskiest.

You can also make some lifestyle choices that will lower your chances of getting HPV so that you’re less likely to get cervical cancer.

The Pap Test

In a Pap test, your gynecologist will take a sample of your cervical cells to look for ones that could become cancer. Those “precancerous” cells might never become a problem. But it’s best to find out and get rid of them to be safe.

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that starting at age 21, women should get a Pap test every 3 years until age 65.

HPV Test

The HPV test is used in combination with the PAP test as a way of strengthening the ability to detect cervical cancer. The USPTF recommends screening using the HPV test alone or a combination of the PAP and HPV test every five years for women over 30.

The HPV Vaccine

There are more than 100 kinds of HPV, but two of them (types 16 and 18) cause more than half of all cervical cancers. The HPV vaccine targets them.

The ideal time to get the HPV vaccine is before you’re sexually active. So they’re available for children starting as young as 9 years old. For individuals starting any HPV series when they are less than 15 years old, they only need 2 total doses instead of the regular 3.

HPV best given to both men and women prior to sexual activity. More commonly given prior to age 26, but has been approved for up to age 45. 

What Else You Can Do

If you’re already sexually active and too old for the vaccine, your best method of prevention is to keep up with your doctor appointments.

You’re also less likely to get HPV if you have fewer sex partners. Ideally, they would also not have a lot of partners, so they are less likely to expose you to HPV.

It may also help to:

WebMD Medical Reference



American Cancer Society: “Cervical Cancer: Detailed Guide,” “HPV and HPV Testing.”

National Institute of Health: “NIH Fact Sheet: Cervical Cancer.”

CDC:  “Cervical Cancer is Preventable,”  “What Should I Know About Screening?” and “Human Papillomavirus (HPV): Questions and Answers.”

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