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40 years ago, cervical cancer was the leading cause of cancer-related death in American women. However, due to the increase in women who receive regular Pap smears, a method of screening for cervical precancer, the number of deaths linked to cervical cancer have dramatically decreased. Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the cervix, but it may also spread to other areas of the body. 

While all women are at the risk of cervical cancer, women over the age of 30 and who have been infected with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) – which causes the vast majority of Cervical cancers – are at a higher risk. Other risk factors include having HIV, smoking, using birth control pills for extended periods of time (more than five years), having given birth to three or more children, and having several sexual partners. 

Getting the HPV vaccine is the best way to prevent cervical cancer, and regular screenings can help detect any cancer or precancer early. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) usually recommends HPV vaccination for children ages 11 or 12 years, but it may be given as early as 9 years old. Catch-up vaccination is recommended for everyone through age 26. ACIP did not recommend catch-up vaccinations for those between the ages of 27 and 45 as most people have already been exposed to HPV this time, but those who are not adequately vaccinated may still be at-risk for HPV infection and may benefit from the vaccine after 26. As such, ACIP recommends shared decision making among patient and provider regarding HPV vaccinations between 27 and 45.

Additionally, there are two screening tests to detect cervical cancer early: a Pap smear, which looks for precancerous cells in the cervix, and an HPV test.

The Carolina Cancer Screening Initiative aims to increase awareness around the importance of regular cervical cancer screenings as well as accessibility to screening methods in North Carolina, particularly in areas of the state that are medically vulnerable. To find out how you can be screened for cervical cancer, visit the CDC page on Cervical Cancer or the American Cancer Society Website.