Cervical Cancer Awareness

Actress Cote de Pablo talks about her own cervical cancer scare and shares advice for other women in this video.

You can prevent cervical cancer by getting screened regularly, starting at age 21.

“I was busy working, traveling, and enjoying life. I completely forgot to pay attention to my health,” said actress Cote de Pablo. “Too much time passed since my last Pap.

“By the time I was tested, things didn’t look too good. We thought I might have cervical cancer.

“I was lucky! After lots of worries—no cancer.

“I’ve always been very close to my mother. When we finally got good results, she broke down. And that’s when I realized it’s not just about me. It’s about your loved ones, too. Get checked for cervical cancer.”

Screening Tests

Two tests help prevent cervical cancer or find it early—

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

Screening Options

You should get your first Pap test at age 21. If your test result is normal, you can wait three years for your next test.

If you’re 30 years old or older, you have three options—

  • You can continue getting a Pap test only. If your test result is normal, you can wait three years for your next test.
  • You can get an HPV test only. If your test result is normal, you can wait five years for your next test.
  • You can get both an HPV and Pap test together. If your test results are normal, you can wait five years for your next tests.

If you have a low income or do not have health insurance, you may be able to get free or low-cost cervical cancer screening 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. HPV can also cause cancers of the penis in men, and anal and head and neck cancers in both men and women.

  • HPV vaccination is recommended for preteens aged 11 to 12 years, but can be given starting at age 9.
  • HPV vaccine also is recommended for everyone through age 26 years, if they are not vaccinated already.
  • HPV vaccination is not recommended for everyone older than age 26 years. However, some adults age 27 through 45 years who are not already vaccinated may decide to get the HPV vaccine after speaking with their doctor about their risk for new HPV infections and the possible benefits of vaccination. HPV vaccination in this age range provides less benefit, as more people have already been exposed to HPV.

If vaccination is started before age 15, a two-dose schedule is recommended, with the doses given 6 to 12 months apart. For people who start the series after their 15th birthday, the vaccine is given in a series of three shots.

HPV vaccination prevents new HPV infections, but does not treat existing infections or diseases. This is why the HPV vaccine works best when given before any exposure to HPV. You should get screened for cervical cancer regularly, even if you received an HPV vaccine.

Make an appointment today for your or your child’s vaccination. If you don’t have insurance, or your insurance does not cover vaccines, CDC’s Vaccines for Children program may be able to help.

Page last reviewed: December 12, 2018