Symptoms of cervical cancer are usually not present in the early stages. Mild and easy to mistake for the symptoms of other, less serious, conditions, when it causes symptoms. It is difficult to detect cervical cancer based on symptoms.

When it is still precancerous, it is possible to detect the disease with a screening. The outlook is very positive for cervical cancer found at this stage.

You can learn about screening guidelines for the disease and how to prevent it.

Just like most other types of cancer, you’ll have more treatment options and a better outlook if cervical cancer is found early.

It is difficult to treat the later stages of the disease. When you have the chance to spread your cancer, survival odds decrease.

There are some steps you can take to detect the disease in its early stages. Here are some strategies that are recommended.

Get routine screening for cervical cancer

Screenings are the best way to detect the disease in its early stages. Symptoms of the disease are not usually caused by early stages. Screenings can find cancer before it starts.

There are two primary screenings for the disease.

  • Pap smears. A Pap smear tests for cervical cancer and precancerous changes that could become cancer.
  • HPV tests. HPV tests look for the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the number-one risk factor for cervical cancer.

The American Cancer Society recommends regular screenings if you’re between the ages of 25 and 65. Guidelines can be found in the table below.

Age group and risk categories Screening recommendations
Between 25 and 65 and at standard risk for cervical cancer Receive an HPV test every 5 years, either along with a Pap smear or on its own. If HPV testing is not available, have a Pap smear every 3 years.
Over 65 and have never had cervical cancer or abnormal Pap smear results Stop getting screened.
Over 65 and have a history of precancerous pap smear results. Continue getting screened regularly.
Between 25 and 65 and have had a total hysterectomy including the removal of your cervix. Stop getting screened unless the procedure was done to treat cervical cancer.
Between 25 and 65 and had a hysterectomy that did not include the removal of your cervix. Continue to follow standard guidelines.
Between 25 and 65 and have had children. Continue to follow standard guidelines.
Between 25 and 65 and have been vaccinated for HPV. Continue to follow standard guidelines.
Between 25 and 65 and are part of a high-risk group, including people with compromised immune systems. Follow the recommendations of your healthcare team.

Know your risk for cervical cancer

Knowing your risk for the disease can help you detect it early.

The biggest single risk factor for cervical cancer is HPV. HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI). You can lower your risk for HPV by practicing safe sex. This means using protection for all sexual activity and getting regularly tested for STIs. Another STI, chlamydia, is also linked to a higher risk for HPV.

“There are risk factors for cancer that aren’t related to STDs.”

In low-income communities, there are less preventative healthcare and sexual education resources, which can lead to more cases of cancer.

Black, Hispanic, and Native American women are disproportionately affected by the lack of healthcare services. These groups are at a higher risk of cancer.

Know the symptoms of cervical cancer

It’s rare for the early stages of cervical cancer to cause symptoms. However, it’s still important to know the symptoms of cervical cancer. These symptoms don’t always mean cervical cancer, but it’s still best to contact a medical professional if you experience them.

The symptoms of a cancer are early.

  • During sex, there is pain.
  • There is pain in your body.
  • vaginal bleeding that is not standard for you could mean heavier menstrual bleeding, longer menstrual spotting between periods, or bleeding after sex.
  • vaginal discharge is not standard for you

Since HPV is the biggest risk factor for cervical cancer, the HPV vaccine is the best way to prevent cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine protects you from the strands of HPV that are most commonly linked to cervical cancer. It doesn’t cure HPV if you already have it.

The vaccine is recommended for you when you are between the ages of 11 and 14. Anyone under the age of 26 is encouraged to get the vaccine. The table below shows the recommended ages and schedules.

Age Ideal window Dosing schedule
9 to 14 Best to start at 11 or 12 Two shots 6 months apart
15 to 26 Highly recommended Three shots. The second shot given 2 months after the first. The third shot given 6 months after the second.
9 to 26 and immunocompromised Highly recommended Three shots. The second shot given 2 months after the first. The third shot given 6 months after the second.
Over 26 Case-specific. Might be a good idea for some people. Talk to a medical professional

Should I continue to get screening if I’ve had a hysterectomy?

It depends. You should continue to get screened if your hysterectomy was done as treatment for cervical cancer. You should also continue to get screened if your cervix wasn’t removed during your hysterectomy.

“If your uterus was removed for a reason other than the treatment of cancer, you don’t need to continue screenings.”

Should I continue to get screened if I’ve had the HPV vaccine?

Yes. Even if you have had the vaccine, you still need to get screened for the disease.

Is the HPV vaccine safe for everyone?

The HPV vaccine is safe and effective. However, The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises against the vaccine if you:

  • have a history of immediate hypersensitivity to yeast (people with minor yeast allergies, such as a skin rash, should not defer a vaccination)
  • Currently pregnant.
  • If you have a moderate to severe acute illness or upper respiratory infections, you should have the vaccine deferred until symptoms improve.

“If you have a mild upper respiratory tract infection with or without a fever, you don’t need to defer vaccination.”

If you have an illness or are pregnant, you can wait to get the vaccine. If you have an allergy to yeast, you should talk to your doctor about your options.

Are there low or no-cost cervical cancer screening options available?

Yes. You have several options for screening. You can check it out.

  • The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Detection Program. The CDC offers The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Detection Program. You can get free screenings through this program if you meet its income requirements.
  • Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is a great resource for reproductive and sexual health. They offer STI testing and Pap smears at low or no cost through sliding-scale payment programs. Some locations can also help you sign up for health insurance programs such as Medicaid.
  • Federally Qualified Health Centers. Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) are government-funded health clinics located throughout the country. They offer a variety of free or low-cost services including cancer screenings and STI tests. You can connect with your local FQHC to ask about available services.

It is possible to detect and treat cervical cancer early. Symptoms of cervical cancer are not likely to occur in the early stages. That is why screenings are so important.

Pap smears and tests for the human immunodeficiency virus are used for screening. When cancer is very treatable, following screening guidelines for your age and risk group can help detect it in the precancer stage.

“Discuss your risk for the disease with a medical professional. If you haven’t received an vaccine in the past, you should.”

The vaccine is the most effective way to reduce your risk of cancer.