Cervical Cancer

Each year in New York City, about 110 women die from cervical cancer and 430 women are newly diagnosed. Most women who have cervical cancer show no signs or symptoms in the early stages. Cervical cancer can have a major impact on a woman’s reproductive function if it is found in the later stages.

Women can take steps to reduce their risk of getting cervical cancer. Vaccination, cervical cancer screening, and appropriate follow-up care greatly reduce the likelihood of death from cervical cancer.

Risk Factors

The most common cause of cervical cancer is infection with a virus, called human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. It is passed from one person to another during vaginal, anal and oral sex. Most sexually active people get an HPV infection at some point in their lives, but only some women who have it will get cervical cancer.

You also may be more at risk for cervical cancer if you:

  • Smoke.
  • Take birth control pills for an extended time (five or more years). Once you stop using birth control pills, your risk will gradually decline.
  • Have HIV or another condition that weakens your immune system.

Reduce Your Risk

To lower your risk of getting cervical cancer:

  • If you smoke, make a plan to quit.
  • Talk to your health care provider about the risks of taking birth control pills.
  • Have regular screening tests. Screening can help find changes in cells before they turn into cancer.

The HPV vaccine helps prevent infection with the types of HPV that can cause cancer.

You may be able to lower your risk for cervical cancer by using condoms during sex and limiting your number of sexual partners, but the effect of condoms in preventing HPV is currently unknown. Research has found condom use is associated with a lower rate of cervical cancer.


Besides the HPV vaccine, routine cancer screenings are the best way to prevent cervical cancer. The most common ways to screen for cervical cancer are a Pap test and an HPV DNA test. For a Pap test, a health care professional will collect cells from the cervix to test for cancer and for signs that cancer may soon develop. An HPV test checks the cells for infection with the types of HPV that most commonly cause cancer.

The US Preventive Services Task Force recommendations for screening are:

  • Women ages 21 to 29 should get a Pap test every three years.
  • Women ages 30 to 65 have a choice of:
    • A Pap test alone every three years.
    • An HPV test alone every five years.
    • A combination of a Pap test and an HPV test every five years.

Other medical organizations have different recommendations for screening. Your health care provider may recommend one of these options more strongly.

The above recommendations apply to women regardless of their sexual history or whether they have been vaccinated against HPV. These guidelines do not apply to women who have a history of a precancerous cervical lesion or cervical cancer.

Ask your health care provider about the benefits and risks of cervical cancer screening and when and how often you should get screened.

Where to Get a Screening Test or HPV Vaccine

Most insurance plans cover cancer preventive services, including Pap tests, without a copay. If you do not have insurance, you may be eligible to sign up for low- or no-cost health insurance. You can also get free in-person assistance signing up for a plan.

Call 311 for help finding:

  • Clinics and other locations where you and your family can be vaccinated for HPV.
  • A health care provider you can talk to about women's health services.
  • A provider or clinic that can give you a Pap test or an HPV test.
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