For Patients

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer starts in a woman's cervix. The cervix is the lower, thin opening of the uterus that connects the vagina (or birth canal) to the uterus (womb). Cervical cancer grows slowly over time and usually starts with abnormal changes to the cells on the cervix, known as dysplasia.

Who gets cervical cancer?

Any woman can get cervical cancer. It occurs most often in women over 30 years of age.

What causes cervical cancer?

Nearly all cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the United States; it is estimated that more than half of sexually active adults will get HPV. There are 120 different types of HPV, more than 30 of which can infect the genitals.

In addition to HPV infection, there are other factors that can increase the chances of getting cervical cancer. These include:

•Not having regular cervical cancer screening tests

•Not following up with your health care provider if you have had an abnormal result from a screening test

•Having HIV, or another condition that makes it hard for your body to fight off health problems

•Smoking

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

Early on, there are usually no symptoms of cervical cancer. The longer a person has cervical cancer without treatment, the more likely they will have symptoms. Some of the symptoms of advanced cervical cancer can include:

•Abnormal vaginal bleeding

•Unusually heavy vaginal discharge

•Painful intercourse

•Painful urination

•Bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after a pelvic exam

If you have any of these symptoms, you should talk to your health care provider. These symptoms may be caused by something else; the only way to know for sure is to see your health care provider.

What should I know about screening for cervical cancer?

There are two screening tests that can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early:

• Pap test or Pap Smear

A Pap test is a procedure done in a doctor's office in which cells are taken from the cervix and looked at under a microscope. It is most often done during a routine pelvic exam. If the Pap test results show cells that are not normal and may become cancer, your health care provider will contact you. There are many reasons why Pap test results might not be normal. It usually does not mean you have cancer.

•High Risk (HR) HPV test

The HR HPV test looks for the high-risk types of this virus that cause most cases of cervical cancer. The HPV test can be done at the same time as the Pap test using either the same sample of cervical cells or a second sample taken right after the Pap test.

How often should I be screened for cervical cancer?

•Cervical cancer screening should start at 21 years of age

•Pap test every three years between 21 and 29 years old

•Pap test and HPV test (co-testing) every five years between 30 and 65 years old or a Pap test every three years.

Talk with your health care provider about how often you should be screened for cervical cancer.

How can I lower my chances of getting cervical cancer?

•The HPV vaccine prevents cervical cancer by protecting against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical cancer.

•See your health care provider regularly for a cervical cancer screening.

Can I get treatment for cervical cancer if I don't have insurance?

Women in need of treatment for cervical cancer may be eligible for coverage through the New York State Medicaid Cancer Treatment Program (NYS MCTP). Coverage lasts for the entire time you are being treated and includes medications. To learn if you are eligible for this program or to get more information, visit the NYS MCTP website.

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