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Cervical Cancer Screening and Prevention


Pedro T. Ramirez

, MD, Houston Methodist Hospital;

Gloria Salvo

, MD, MD Anderson Cancer Center

Reviewed/Revised Sep 2023
Topic Resources

Cervical cancer screening Screening Cervical cancer is a common gynecologic malignancy and a major cause of cancer deaths in low- and middle-resource countries ( 1, 2). Effective screening and prevention methods are available... read more is recommended for all women in the United States, with variations across major medical organizations regarding the starting age, choice of tests, and frequency of screening.

In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) initiated a global strategy to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem, with the following goals to be met by 2030 (see WHO: Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative):

  • 90% of girls are fully vaccinated with HPV vaccine by age 15 years

  • 70% of women are screened with a high-performance test by age 35 and again by 45

  • 90% of women identified with cervical disease (precancer or invasive cancer) receive treatment

General references

  • 1. Sung H, Ferlay J, Siegel RL, et al: Global cancer statistics 2020: GLOBOCAN estimates of incidence and mortality worldwide for 36 cancers in 185 countries. CA Cancer J Clin 71 (3):209–249, 2021. doi: 10.3322/caac.21660

  • 2. Bhatla N, Aoki D, Sharma DN, Sankaranarayanan R: Cancer of the cervix uteri: 2021 update. Int J Gynaecol Obstet 155 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):28-44, 2021. doi:10.1002/ijgo.13865

  • 3. Koliopoulos G, Nyaga VN, Santesso N, et al: Cytology versus HPV testing for cervical cancer screening in the general population. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 8(8):CD008587, 2017. Published 2017 Aug 10. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008587.pub2

  • 4. Arbyn M, Xu L, Simoens C, Martin-Hirsch PP: Prophylactic vaccination against human papillomaviruses to prevent cervical cancer and its precursors. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 5(5):CD009069, 2018. Published 2018 May 9. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009069.pub3

Screening for Cervical Cancer

Routine cervical cancer screening effectively detects preinvasive and early-stage disease and decreases cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates.

Two types of screening tests for cervical abnormalities are used:

  • Testing for high-risk HPV genotypes

  • Pap test (cervical cytology)

If Pap and HPV testing are not available (eg, in resource-limited settings), visual inspection of the cervix after application of acetic acid or Lugol iodine is an alternative screening method.

Cervical screening guidelines vary somewhat; general guidelines include (see table ):

For patients screened with a Pap test alone, if the cytology result is ASCUS (atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance), which is an inconclusive finding, HPV testing is the preferred method of follow-up evaluation; this approach is called reflex HPV testing. If HPV testing is negative, screening tests should be repeated in 3 years. If HPV testing is positive, colposcopy should be done.

For women who have had a total hysterectomy (cervix and uterus removed) and do not have a history of cervical cancer or high-grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, further screening is not indicated.


The Papanicolaou test (cervical cytology) was developed in 1928 and was a major advancement in screening for cervical cancer. Cervical cytology results are reported using standardized terminology, the Bethesda System (see table ).


Screening references

Prevention of Cervical Cancer

  • A bivalent vaccine that protects against subtypes 16 and 18 (which cause most cervical cancers)

  • A quadrivalent vaccine that protects against subtypes 16 and 18 plus 6 and 11

  • A 9-valent vaccine that protects against the same subtypes as the quadrivalent plus subtypes 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58 (which cause about 15% of cervical cancers)

The vaccines aim to prevent cervical cancer but do not treat it. All three types of vaccines are most effective if given before first sexual activity and potential exposure to HPV.

The HPV vaccine is recommended for all people, ideally before they become sexually active. The standard recommendation is to vaccinate beginning at age 11 to 12 years, but vaccination may begin at age 9.

Prevention reference

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Drug Name Select Trade
Acetasol, Borofair, VoSoL
NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
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