A risk factor increases your chances of developing cancer. Modifying the following risk factors may help reduce your risk of cervical cancer.

General Guidelines

Here are some ways to help you reduce your risk of cervical cancer:

Have a Pelvic Exam and Pap Test Once a Year

Early detection and treatment of precancerous tissue remain the most effective ways of preventing cervical cancer. Since cervical cancer rarely produces symptoms in its early stages, the best way to detect it is routine visits to your doctor for a pelvic exam and Pap test. Women who do not regularly have a Pap test are at increased risk of cervical cancer.

The American Cancer Society recommends the following:

  • Cervical cancer screening should begin approximately three years after a woman begins having vaginal intercourse, but no later than 21 years of age.
  • Cervical screening should be done every year with regular Pap tests or every two years using liquid-based Pap tests. At or after age 30, women who have had three normal test results in a row may get screened every two to three years. But a doctor may suggest getting the test more often if a woman has certain risk factors.
  • Women 70 years of age and older who have had three or more normal Pap test results and no abnormal results in the last 10 years may choose to stop cervical cancer screening.
  • Screening after a total hysterectomy (with removal of the cervix) is not necessary unless the surgery was done as a treatment for cervical cancer or precancer. Some other special conditions may require continued screening. Women who have had a hysterectomy without removal of the cervix should continue cervical cancer screening at least until age 70.

Getting a pelvic exam and Pap test can save your life—the incidence of cervical cancer in the US has decreased by 70% since widespread screening began in the early 1940s.

Practice Safe Sex

In a consensus statement, the National Institutes of Health stated that cervical cancer is largely preventable if young people could modify their sexual behavior and decrease exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV). This is because infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease, is the primary risk factor for cervical cancer. Women who have had multiple sexual partners or who began having sex before the age of 18 are at greater risk of exposure to HPV infection and developing cervical cancer.

If you are sexually active, you can decrease your risk by maintaining a monogamous relationship, one in which you are having sex with only your partner and your partner is having sex only with you. Whether or not you are in a monogamous relationship, using a condom every single time you have sexual intercourse will decrease your risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease and therefore decrease your risk of cervical cancer.

Ask Your Doctor about the HPV Vaccine

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported on an experimental vaccine that significantly reduced the incidence of HPV 16 and the associated precancerous changes in the cervix. However, it may be years before this vaccine is available for general use. Ask your doctor to keep you updated on the status of this vaccine.

Do Not Smoke

Smoking exposes your entire body—not just your lungs—to many cancer-causing chemicals. The toxins created when you smoke are absorbed by your lungs and carried throughout the body by the bloodstream. In fact, tobacco by-products have been found in the cervical mucus of women who smoke.

Smokers are about twice as likely as nonsmokers to develop cervical cancer. Researchers believe that the DNA of cervical cells is damaged by the chemicals released by tobacco smoking, possibly contributing to the development of cancer. By continuing to assault the cells in your cervix with tobacco smoke, you put yourself at risk. Stopping now will greatly reduce your risk.

For more information on quitting smoking, click here .

Eat a Balanced Diet

Good nutrition is essential for health and well being. Women with poor diets may be at an increased risk for cervical cancer. Studies have found an association between diets low in vitamins A and C and folic acid and an increased risk of cervical cancer. A study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that vitamin C, fruit juices, and beta-carotene had protective effects against the development of cervical cancer.

For more information about eating a healthful diet, click here .