How to Have a Healthy Cervix

A healthy cervix should be part of every woman's health agenda. By taking a few simple steps, most women can greatly reduce their risk of developing cervical health problems such as cervical dysplasia or cervical cancer. 


Pay Attention to Prevention

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Preventive care and screening are absolutely crucial when it comes to preventing cervical cancer. There are two main strategies for detecting human papillomavirus (HPV), one of the primary causes of cervical cancer.

A Pap smear is a screening test that looks for abnormal cervical changes that indicate cancer or changes that could one day lead to cervical cancer. In most cases, cervical cancer takes years to develop; having a regular Pap smear detects these changes long before they become cancerous. Think about when you had your last Pap smear and when the healthcare provider recommended that you have your next one. Frequency varies from woman to woman, so if you are unsure or have never had one, check with your healthcare provider or review the latest screening guidelines.

The other option is to get HPV primary testing. Primary HPV testing checks for two strains of HPV, 16 and 18, which are responsible for about 70% of cervical cancer cases. If HPV 16 or 18 is detected then a colposcopy is recommended. A colposcopy is procedure that magnifies the cervix so healthcare providers can take a better look at abnormal cells and take biopsies if needed.

In guidelines issued in 2020, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that individuals who have a cervix undergo HPV primary testing, rather than a Pap test, every five years starting at 25 and continuing through 65. More frequent Pap tests (every three years) are regarded as acceptable for people whose healthcare practitioner does not have access to HPV primary testing. Previously the ACS advised screening begin at age 21.


Follow the Healthcare Provider's Recommendations

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It is surprising how many women don't follow their healthcare provider's orders. Visits for follow-up Pap smears, colposcopy exams, and other treatments are often marked as "no show". Lack of insurance, mistrust of healthcare providers, and misunderstanding of recommended follow-up tests are all common reasons.

To prevent cervical cancer, women must be proactive in their health care. This means listening to the healthcare provider and if there is a disagreement about care, second opinions are always an option. Mistrust of one healthcare provider's opinion should never result in the mistrust of all healthcare providers.

Never leave the practitioner's office until you have a complete understanding of the follow-up plan.


Get Vaccinated With the HPV Vaccine

HPV Vaccine
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You may be wondering how a vaccine can help keep your cervix healthy. The HPV vaccine protects against common sub-strains of HPV known to cause cervical cancer in women. Women infected with these high-risk strains develop cervical dysplasia. When left unmonitored and untreated, high-risk cervical dysplasia can develop into cervical cancer.

Gardasil 9, the only HPV vaccine available in the United States, is FDA-approved for females 9 through 45 to protect against cervical and other cancers caused by disease-causing HPV strains. Guidelines vary about the optimal age for Garsadil 9 vaccination, though all agree getting the vaccine on the early side can help prevent the largest number of cancer cases.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends two-dose HPV vaccination at age 11 or 12. Adolescents who get the two doses less than five months apart as well as those who are over 14 at the time of their first dose will need a third dose.

The 2020 HPV vaccination guidelines from the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommend the initial dose of HPV vaccine be given to boys and girls between ages 9 and 12. For teens and young adults up to age 26 who do not complete the series, the ACS recommends a "catch-up" HPV vaccination.


Practice Safe Sex

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Practicing safe sex not only prevents unwanted pregnancy, it also helps prevents sexually transmitted infections that can make the cervix unhealthy. HPV is a common sexually transmitted virus that is spread through sexual, skin-to-skin contact - no penile penetration is needed to transmit the virus. Both heterosexual and homosexual couples are at risk. While condoms aren't 100 percent effective at preventing the spread of HPV, studies show that they do provide some protection.


Report Symptoms to Your Healthcare Provider

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Although cervical cancer rarely presents early symptoms, you should always report any symptoms you are experiencing to your healthcare provider as soon as you start experiencing them. Symptoms that may indicate a cervical problem include (but not limited to):

  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse (postcoital bleeding)
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding(heavy menstrual flow, bleeding between menstrual periods
  • Vaginal discharge
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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fontham ETH, Wolf AMD, Church TR, et al. Cervical cancer screening for individuals at average risk: 2020 guideline update from the American Cancer SocietyCA Cancer J Clin. 2020;70(5):321-346. doi:10.3322/caac.21628

  2. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccines and preventable diseases. HPV vaccine Rrcommendations.

  3. Saslow D, Andrews KS, Manassaram-baptiste D, et al. Human papillomavirus vaccination 2020 guideline update: American cancer society guideline adaptation. CA Cancer J Clin. 2020 Jul;70(4):274-280. doi:10.3322/caac.21616