Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is caused by abnormal cells that grow and spread uncontrollably in the cervix; the lower, narrow part of the uterus (womb) that open into the vagina (birth canal).

Most cervical cancer is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus, or HPV; a group of very common viruses that can spread easily by skin to skin contact.  HPV will affect an estimated four out of five sexually active people in their lifetimes

Only certain types of HPV can lead to cervical cancer, while others may cause genital warts. The body often fights off the virus, even the high risk types, on its own.   While most women will have HPV at some point, not all will develop cervical cancer.

Most cervical cancer is caused by HPV. In addition to HPV, these things can increase women’s risk of cervical cancer:

  • Smoking
  • Living with HIV or another condition that lowers the immune system, and makes it hard for the  body to fight off infection
  • Using birth control pills for five or more years
  • Giving birth to three or more children

Due to screening and early detection, cervical cancer rates have declined rapidly for women in the US. But Black women continue to be more likely to die of cervical cancer than any other racial or ethnic group. In fact, although cervical cancer occurs most often in Hispanic women, Black women tend to have lower 5-year survival rates and die more often than any other race.

  • Learn how cervical cancer can be prevented.  Cervical cancer is the most preventable form of cancer. With regular screening, changes in the cervix can often be detected before they become cancerous.  Because the needs of Black women and all women vary by individual, it is important to talk to your medical provider during your annual well woman visit (now covered by the Affordable Care Act without a co-pay) about how often you need a Pap test, or if the HPV test is appropriate for you.


  • There is a cervical cancer vaccine that is available for girls and women ages 9-26 that prevents the most common types of high risk HPV, types 16 and 18, which are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. Some forms of the vaccine will also prevent the most common types of HPV that cause genital warts. Parents and guardians should talk to their daughters’ health care provider about whether the vaccine is right for their child. Ideally, girls will be vaccinated before becoming sexually active and being exposed to any type of HPV, but it can still be effective for those who have been sexual active. The vaccine protects against new HPV infections but does not cure HPV infections or diseases like genital warts. Even with vaccination, regular Pap tests are still important since the vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV.

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