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Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention

A Division of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services

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Maine Cancer Registry - Cervical Cancer: Risk Factors, Prevention & Early Detection

Cervical Cancer in the U.S.

Both incidence and mortality for invasive cancer of the cervix have declined steadily in this country over the past three decades. The U.S. incidence rates are generally lower than other parts of the world, such as India and South America. These trends are largely due to successful use of Pap smears to detect pre-malignant changes or early cancer. However, in spite of our ability to prevent this cancer, according to the 2006 American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts & Figures, an estimated 9,710 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and 3,700 women will die from this disease annually. Additionally, African American women have a higher rate of cervical cancer than White women.

Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer

Most cervical cancers (85%) are associated with human papilloma virus (HPV), a virus passed along through sexual contact. The following behaviors make HPV infection - and therefore cancer - of the cervix more likely:

  • A higher number of sexual partners over a lifetime
  • Sexual activity with a man who has had multiple sexual partners
  • Early age at first intercourse

Other factors that may influence the development of cervical cancer are:

  • Long-term oral contraceptive use
  • Poor immune system function
  • Infection with HIV/AIDS
  • Smoking

Prevention of Cervical Cancer

The two most important measures a woman can take to reduce her chance of getting cervical cancer are:

  • Get regular Pap smears to screen for early cancer or lesions which may become cancerous (dysplasias)
  • Use safer sex practices, such as condom use and decreasing the number of sexual partners, to lower exposure to infectious agents.

Early Detection

Why is early detection important?

  • Cases detected early (local disease) have about a 92% chance of living for at least five more years.
  • Cases detected at the distant stage (when disease has spread to another part of the body) have only a 15% chance of living for five more years.

How to Improve your Chances of Detecting Cervical Cancer Early:

See your health care provider about regular Pap smears. Women with no risk factors should do the following:

  • Start having annual Pap smears within three years after becoming sexually active, but no later than age 21.
  • Beginning at age 30 if three in a row are normal it might be possible to have a Pap smear every 2-3 years depending on the presence of additional risk factors.

Women with the following risk factors should discuss with their providers having Pap smears more often:

  • A history of an abnormal Pap smear
  • A history of genital warts or any Sexually Transmitted Disease
  • Known HPV or HIV infection
  • Early age at first sexual intercourse
  • History of multiple sexual partners

For information on cervical cancer statistics in Maine, please see MCR's Annual Reports.