What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Cervical Cancer?

Cote de Pablo

“Please pay attention to your health—for you and the people who care about you,” says Cote de Pablo.

The most important thing you can do to help prevent cervical cancer is to have regular screening tests starting at age 21.

Screening Tests

Two screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early—

  • The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.
  • The HPV test looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that can cause these cell changes.

Both tests can be done in a doctor’s office or clinic. If you have a low income or do not have health insurance, you may be able to get free or low-cost screening tests through CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Find out if you qualify.

HPV Vaccine

The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. It is recommended for preteens (both boys and girls) aged 11 to 12 years, but can be given as early as age 9 and until age 26. The vaccine is given in a series of either two or three shots, depending on age.

It is important to note that women who are vaccinated against HPV still need to have regular tests to screen for cervical cancer.

More Steps to Help Prevent Cervical Cancer

These things may also help lower your risk for cervical cancer—

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Use condoms during sex.*
  • Limit your number of sexual partners.

*HPV infection can occur in both male and female genital areas that are covered or protected by a latex condom, as well as in areas that are not covered. While the effect of condoms in preventing HPV infection is unknown, condom use has been associated with a lower rate of cervical cancer.

Page last reviewed: August 27, 2018