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Reviewed 7/2/2020

Cervical cancer: True or false?

Each year, about 13,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer—or cancer of the cervix. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent, detect and stop it early on. How much do you know about cervical cancer?

True or false: HPV (human papillomavirus) infections cause most cervical cancers.

True. HPV is a group of viruses that can be transmitted during vaginal, oral or anal sex. HPV infection is very common, and it usually disappears on its own. But certain types can cause cervical cancer when they don't go away. That's why HPV vaccination is a big part of cervical cancer prevention.

True or false: Cervical cancer is the easiest gynecological cancer to prevent.

True. Routine Pap test screening can help a doctor find and treat abnormal cells early on—before they turn into cancer. In addition, an HPV test is available. Another easy, but important, form of prevention is getting an HPV vaccination at the recommended age.

True or false: Vaginal pain and bleeding are usually the first symptoms of cervical cancer.

True. However, often there are no symptoms at all, especially in its early stages. In its later stages, symptoms can include vaginal discharge, bleeding, pain during sex and problems urinating.

True or false: You can't get cervical cancer if you've had a hysterectomy.

False. Not all hysterectomies include removal of the cervix, which means you may still be at risk for cervical cancer. Women who have had a total hysterectomy—removal of the uterus and cervix—can stop having Pap tests, unless the hysterectomy was performed because of cervical cancer.

True or false: An abnormal Pap test means you have cervical cancer.

False. Cervical cancer isn't the only thing that can cause an abnormal Pap test. Other possible reasons include irritation, an infection or a mistake in the preparation of the test. In most cases, an abnormal Pap test means you'll be asked to repeat the test.

Most women should begin having Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer when they turn 21. Your screening routine can depend on your age and risk factors.

Steps to prevention

Sources: American Cancer Society; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Office on Women's Health

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