Cervical cancer starts in the cells of the cervix (the passageway that connects the uterus and vagina). Abnormal changes to the cells of the cervix are called dysplasia of the cervix. In some women, these changes will develop into cervical cancer. In other women, they will not.
Changes to the cells of the cervix that lead to cancer can be caused by exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV). You can lower your chance of getting HPV by:
- Choosing not to have sex.
- Getting the HPV vaccine.
- Using condoms every time you have sex (remember: you can still get HPV from an infected person’s skin not covered by the condom).
A pap test or cervical screen is a simple test done by a health care professional is the only way to find changes in your cervix caused by HPV that may lead to cervical cancer.
Starting at age 21, if you have had skin-to-skin sexual contact you should get a pap test every 3 years. Pap tests are still needed if you have had the HPV vaccine since HPV strains not covered by the vaccine can cause cervical cancer.