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Cervical Cancer Rates Among Young Women in the United States

Most cases of cervical cancer can be prevented with regular screening and follow-up of abnormal results. Cervical cancer screening in women younger than 21 years is thought to be less effective than for older women. All national organizations now recommend that women be screened for cervical cancer beginning at age 21 years. Yet, studies show that doctors still screen women younger than 21 years.

This study used two federal cancer surveillance systems (National Program of Cancer Registries and Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program) to describe cervical cancer rates among women younger than 40 years old.


Among women younger than 40 years of age—

  • 78% of cervical cancer cases were diagnosed in women aged 30 to 39 years.
  • 21% of cervical cancer cases were diagnosed in women aged 20 to 29 years.
  • 1% of cervical cancer cases were diagnosed in women younger than age 20 years.
  • Between 1999 and 2008, there were 3,063 cases of cervical cancer each year. On average, there were 14 cases per year among women aged 15 to 19, and 125 cases per year among women aged 20 to 24 years.

Although cervical cancer is very rare in young women, abnormal Pap tests are common among young women due to a common sexually transmitted infection, human papillomavirus (HPV). An abnormal Pap test can lead to additional procedures that can cause harm and unnecessary treatment. Most abnormalities in young women get better without treatment. Since cervical cancer is rare in young women, doctors should follow recommendations to begin screening for cervical cancer at age 21 years.


Benard VB, Watson M, Castle PE, Saraiya M. Cervical carcinoma rates among young females in the United States. Obstetrics and Gynecology 2012;120(5):1117–1123.