Reducing your risk for cervical cancer
You may lower your risk of developing cervical cancer by doing the following.
Get vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is a risk factor for developing squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL), which is a precancerous condition, and cervical cancer. The 3 HPV vaccines available in Canada are Gardasil, Cervarix and Gardasil 9. These vaccines help protect against infection with HPV-16 and HPV-18, the 2 types of HPV most commonly linked with precancerous conditions and cervical cancer. Gardasil 9 also protects against 5 other types of HPV that can cause cancer. All 3 vaccines are approved to help prevent precancerous conditions of the cervix and cervical cancer associated with HPV infection.
Get vaccinated or have your children vaccinated through school-based programs where available. If you are not eligible for a free vaccination, talk to your doctor about which vaccine is right for you and when you should have it.
HPV vaccines should be used along with, not instead of, cervical cancer screening. All women – whether or not they get an HPV vaccine – need to be screened for cervical cancer. The vaccines prevent infection from HPV types that are linked with 70% to 90% of all cervical cancers. But not all cervical cancers will be prevented by the vaccines.
Practise safer sex
The only sure way to prevent HPV infection is to completely avoid any genital contact with another person. Anyone who has had sex is at risk for HPV.
Talk to your partner(s) about their sexually transmitted infection (STI) status and using protection. Remember that the previous sexual behaviours of your partner are also a risk for you, especially if they have had multiple partners.
If you are sexually active, use a condom and other barriers, such as an oral dam, safely to help protect against HPV. Condoms or other barriers can reduce HPV infection if put on before skin-to-skin sexual contact. However, skin that isn’t covered is not protected from the virus.
Follow cancer screening guidelines
If you follow the screening guidelines for cervical cancer, the cancer can be found before you notice symptoms. Follow the guidelines even when you feel well and healthy. Have regular Pap tests to help find abnormal changes in the cervix early.
Find out more about screening for cervical cancer.
Smoking increases the risk of precancerous conditions and cancer of the cervix. For the quitline in your province or territory, visit cancer.ca/quitlines.
Find out if you’re at high risk for cervical cancer
Some women have a higher than average risk for cervical cancer. Talk to your doctor about your risk. If it’s higher than average, you may need to have Pap tests more often or an HPV test.
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