Cervical cancer | Detection and treatment

Detecting and treating cervical cancer

Cervical cancer can be cured most of the time, especially when found at an early stage. It is usually found through a Pap test. Regularly scheduled screenings with your healthcare provider are vital to monitoring your health and ensuring early intervention if needed. 

Woman and provider in exam room

Who should be screened for cervical cancer?

If you have a cervix, you may need cervical cancer screening. Screening will depend on many factors. With changing scientific testing for HPV, guidelines regarding the age to start screening and the age a woman may stop screening may change frequently. Women should discuss recommendations with their healthcare provider.

Ages 21 to 29 — Screening options for these ages include:

  • A Pap test. If your results are normal, you can wait three years to have another test.
  • An HPV test beginning at age 25. If your results are negative, you can wait five years to have another test.

Source: Healthwise

Ages 30 to 64 — Screening options for these ages include:

  • A Pap test. If your results are normal, you can wait three years to have another test.
  • An HPV test. If your results are negative, you can wait five years to have another test.
  • A Pap test and an HPV test. If your results are normal, you can wait five years to be tested again.

Ages 65 and older — If you are age 65 or older and you've always had normal screening results, you may not need screening. Talk to your provider.

Woman writing in appointment book calendar

What are screening tests for cervical cancer?

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Cervical cancer screening tests check the cells on the cervix for changes that could lead to cancer.

Two tests can be used to screen for cervical cancer. They may be used alone or together.

  • A Pap test — This test looks for changes in the cells of the cervix. Some of these cell changes could lead to cancer.
  • A human papillomavirus (HPV) test — This test looks for the HPV virus. Some high-risk types of HPV can cause cell changes that could lead to cervical cancer.

What do the results of cervical cancer screening mean?

If you have a high-risk type of human papillomavirus (HPV) or cell changes that could turn into cancer, you may need more tests. Your doctor may suggest that you wait to be retested. Or you may need to have a colposcopy or treatment right away.

Your provider will recommend a follow-up plan based on your results and your age.

Your test results may be normal. Or the results may show minor or serious changes to the cells on your cervix. Minor changes may go away on their own, especially if you are younger than 30.

You may have an abnormal test because you have an infection of the vagina or cervix or because you have low estrogen levels after menopause that are causing the cells to change.

Source: Healthwise

How is cervical cancer treated?

Treatment for cervical cancer is based on the stage of the cancer and other things, such as whether you might want to become pregnant. The main treatments include:

  • Surgery — Most women have surgery. The most common type is hysterectomy. This removes the uterus, the cervix, and part of the vagina. Options to preserve fertility include conization (removing a wedge of tissue that contains cancer) and trachelectomy (removing the cervix and part of the vagina but leaving the uterus).
  • Radiation therapy — This therapy uses high-dose X-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation is often used with surgery.
  • Chemotherapy — These medicines kill fast-growing cells, including cancer cells and some normal cells. Chemotherapy and radiation may be given together (chemoradiation).

If the cancer is advanced or has come back (recurrent), treatment options may also include targeted therapy and immunotherapy.

Your provider will talk with you about your options and then make a treatment plan.