Quiz: Cervical Cancer—What Causes It, How to Prevent It

Cervical cancerCervical cancer and the deaths it causes are preventable. To learn more, answer these true-false questions:

  1. A group of viruses, called human papillomaviruses (HPVs), causes most cases of cervical cancer.
  2. Vaccines can prevent infection from high-risk HPVs.
  3. Vaccines can prevent all cases of cervical cancer.
  4. Cervical cancer grows quickly.
  5. A woman should have her first Pap test when she is age 21.


1. True. Most forms of HPV cause no symptoms, while others cause harmless warts on hands and feet. But high-risk HPVs, passed during sex, may cause genital warts or unusual cell growth in the cervix. This unusual cell growth can later become cervical cancer.

2. True. Vaccines are available to prevent infection from two high-risk forms of sexually transmitted HPV, which cause seven out of 10 cases of cervical cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends both girls and boys get an HPV vaccine by age 11 or 12. The vaccine also is recommended for those up to age 21 (men) and 26 (women) who have not been previously vaccinated.

3. False. Two or three injections, depending on your age, are needed to offer protection against the two types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer. But a woman may already have been infected. Or she may have caught a less common type of HPV. So, early vaccination must be backed up by regular Pap tests. This screening lets doctors find and treat early cervical changes that might otherwise turn into cancer.

4. False. It is a slow-growing cancer.

5. True. Women ages 21 to 65 need Pap tests. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggests that most women should get a Pap test once every three years. Women ages 30 to 65 can choose to instead have a Pap test once every five years along with an HPV test. Women older than 65 who have had normal screenings and do not have a high risk for cervical cancer do not need Pap tests. Talk with your doctor about the schedule that is best for you.

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