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Catching Cancer

Regular Pap tests are still the gold standard in the fight against cervical cancer

Women, listen up. It seems that from our very first—and scary!—Pap test in our teens, we are indoctrinated on the risks of cancer. But do you really understand the risks, prevention strategies and treatment options for cervical cancer? And what about all this HPV talk, anyway?

Here's what you need to know:


Cervical cancer is most commonly caused by infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), which is transmitted through sexual contact. HPV is a common virus that most sexually active women get—and fight—on their own. Sometimes, however, infection becomes chronic and leads to cancer.

Meanwhile, women who smoke are twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer. In fact, the cervical fluid of cervical cancer patients has been found to contain tobacco byproducts. Quitting smoking is an extremely important step in reducing risk for cervical and other cancers.


Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States. The good news is, rates have declined sharply (although Illinois remains among the states with the highest rate of cervical cancer in the country). The decline is credited to regular Pap screening. Pap tests are the best way to detect abnormal cell activity.

As for HPV, it's important to distinguish the HPV vaccine (a protective measure recommended for females as young as age 9 and up to age 26) from the HPV test (a swab test for women 30 and older that detects the presence of HPV).

The American Cancer Society recommends Pap testing every three years for women ages 21 to 29. At age 30, the preferred screening schedule is Pap test combined with an HPV test every five years through age 65.


Treatment options for cervical cancer range from surgery for noninvasive cancers to a combination of radiation, chemotherapy and/or surgery for invasive cancers. NCH offers a state-of-the-art cervical cancer treatment program that includes minimally invasive robotic surgery (da Vinci®), as well as the latest chemo and radiation therapies.

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Last Updated 04/10/2009