Early Detection, Prevention, and Screening of Cervical Cancer

Saima Andrabi   by Saima Andrabi, MS, Clinical Biochemistry    Last updated on April 20, 2021,

early detection cervical cancer

Prevention of cervical cancer: Can you prevent cervical cancer?

The most common type of cervical cancer begins with pre-cancerous changes. Till date, we do not know ways to stop this disease from starting or developing. The only way to prevent the disease from progressing is to find and treat pre-cancers before they become actual cervical cancers and to prevent the pre-cancers.

Cervical cancer can sometimes (in fact most of the times) be prevented through regular screenings to find any precancers and treat them. Preventing precancers includes controlling the possible risk factors, such as following these considerations:

  • Delaying first sexual intercourse until the late teens or later
  • Not having several sex partners
  • Avoiding sexual intercourse with people who have had many sexual partners
  • Avoiding sexual intercourse with people who are infected with genital warts
  • Avoiding sexual intercourse with people who are suspected of HPV infection
  • Getting vaccination for HPV
  • Quitting smoking

Read about cervical cancer risk factors.

HPV vaccine and prevention of cervical cancer

The HPV vaccine helps prevent cervical cancer caused by HPV virus. There are more than hundred types of HPV viruses but only a few of them are associated with cervical cancer.

Gardasil 9 is a vaccine that is available in the United States for preventing the infection from HPV-16, HPV-18, and 5 other types of HPV linked with cervical cancer.

There were 2 other vaccines that were previously available in the United States. These are:

  • Cervarix
  • Original Gardasil

Both of these are no longer available in the United States. But, these vaccines may be in use outside of the United States.

To help prevent the cervical cancer, ASCO recommends that girls should receive HPV vaccination. The appropriate schedule for vaccination may vary because of many factors such as age and vaccine availability etc.

Read about HPV vaccination for prevention of cervical cancer in women.

Read about ASCO’s recommendations for preventing cervical cancer.

Can cervical cancer be found early through Pap test and other screening methods?

Pap test is a commonly performed screening test to find cervical cancer early. Screening with a Pap test may be combined with a test for human papilloma virus or HPV (which is the most common cause of cervical cancer).

Routine Pap testing can help find pre-invasive lesions (called pre-cancers) of the cervix early before they become invasive cancer. One needs to be careful of any signs and symptoms of cervical cancer can start the procedures of diagnosis and treatment immediately.

Cervical cancer screening: What is early detection of cervical cancer?

Early detection of the cervical cancer is the process of finding pre-cancers before the signs and symptoms of cancer are visible. Early detection significantly improves the chances of successful treatment and survival and can prevent any early cervical cell changes that could otherwise become cancerous.

Screening is done to look for cancer or other abnormalities that may become cancerous before you have any symptoms or signs of the cancer in cervix. Over time, scientists have developed tests that can be used to screen a person for cervical cancer before any signs or symptoms of the cancer appear.

What are the goals of cervical cancer screening?

The goals of cervical cancer screening are:

  • To reduce the number of deaths from cervical cancer
  • To reduce the number of people who develop the cancer

Screening tests for cervical cancer

One or more of these tests and procedures may be performed to screen for cervical cancer:

Bimanual pelvic exam

Your doctor will check the body through physical examination for any unusual changes in the cervix, uterus, vagina, ovaries, and other pelvic organs.

The doctor may use an instrument called a speculum to open the vaginal walls wide and look inside the vaginal cavity. The doctor may then insert her 2 fingers of one hand inside the patient’s vagina to reach to the inner locations while the other hand is used to gently press the lower abdomen to feel the uterus and ovaries.

Physical examination usually takes a few minutes and is done at the doctor’s office. There is no pain but you can feel a slight discomfort.

HPV test for women

A sample of suspected cells is taken from the woman’s cervix to perform HPV test for women. It is tested for the strains of HPV virus, which is the most common risk factor for cervical cancer. HPV testing may be done by itself or combined with a Pap test.

Pap test (Pap smear screening) or cervical smear test

The Pap test (also called Pap smear or Pap smear screening) is most commonly done for early changes in the cells (pre-cancers) that can lead to cervical cancer. It is also called cervical smear test, when done to investigate the cervical cancer.

The test involves extracting a sample of cells from the cervix and testing it in a lab for the cancerous cells.

Pap smear test age (cervical screening age through Pap smear test)

All women who are registered with a healthcare provider are required for cervical screening at this age:

  • 25 to 49 years – every 3 years
  • 50 to 64 – every 5 years
  • over 65 years – only women who haven't been screened since age 50 or those who have recently had abnormal tests

HPV Pap smear

Sometimes, HPV test and Pap smear test can be done together at the same time, this is called an HPV Pap smear test.

What is an abnormal smear for a cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer screening includes two types of screening tests as discussed above - Pap test or Pap smear, and HPV testing. The main purpose of screening with the Pap test is to detect any abnormal cells that may develop into cancer later if left untreated. These may be pre-cancers and indicate abnormalities in the normal cells. The other types of abnormalities could be true cancer cells. Both these abnormalities are referred to as abnormal smears for the cervical cancer.

The abnormal smears of the cervix indicate an abnormal growth of the cells lining the surface of the cervix.

Visual inspection

Visual inspection is a screening procedure that is done with naked eye. Diluted white vinegar is applied to the cervix during the test. The doctor then looks for abnormalities on the cervix, which turn white when exposed to vinegar (acid). This screening test is generally used in places where access to medical care is not easy .

Saima Andrabi

Saima Andrabi is a clinical biochemist and is passionate about driving knowledge platforms for creating health awareness in the general public. She pursued her master’s degree in clinical biochemistry from University of Kashmir, Srinagar followed by an internship from National Institute of pathology, New Delhi. Her areas of interest include molecular biology, immunology, medical physiology and forensic medicine. Saima is very much interested in writing medical content and wants to create awareness in public through this platform.


Currently, Saima Andrabi is working at Maxinov Solutions Private LTD as a research associate and is associated with DiseaseFix as a medical content writer.

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