New York State Department of Health Stresses Importance of Screenings and the HPV Vaccine During Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

Cervical Cancer Screening and HPV Vaccine Recommendations Available Here

Community Cancer Services Programs Offering Free Screening and Supportive Services Available Here

ALBANY, N.Y. (January 24, 2023) – In recognition of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, the New York State Department of Health is reminding people to schedule a screening appointment or get the human papillomavirus vaccination (HPV), which protects against HPV types that cause the highest risk of cervical cancer.

"Cervical cancer screenings remain the first line of defense against this disease that still impacts far too many individuals," Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said. "Early detection is essential to prevention, especially during the early stages of cervical cancer when there are often no symptoms. Getting the HPV vaccine can prevent cervical cancer, as well as some other cancers, from developing later in life. During cervical cancer awareness month, the Department is raising awareness of the benefits of screenings and the HPV vaccine to reduce the number of cases of preventable cancer."

Cervical cancer can affect anyone with a cervix, including women, transgender, and non-binary New Yorkers who still have an intact cervix. The cervix is the lower, thin opening of the uterus that connects the vagina (birth canal) to the uterus (womb). Cervical cancer grows slowly over time and usually starts with changes to the cells on the cervix, known as dysplasia. Removing these abnormal cells can prevent cervical cancer.

Virtually all cervical cancer is caused by HPV, which can cause cervical cell abnormalities. Cervical cancer screening tests can find the cells that lead to cancer before it starts or find cancer early when it is most easily treated. Increasing the number of people vaccinated against HPV will reduce the number of HPV-related cancers.

According to the Department's 2020 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey, those who were less likely to report being up to date with screenings include individuals under 30 years of age, those who identify as "other race, multiracial, non-Hispanic," and those without health insurance, a regular health care provider, individuals without a college degree, or with incomes lower than $50,000 per year.

All New Yorkers with a cervix should have regular cervical cancer screenings including those who are not sexually active or who consider themselves beyond childbearing years. Individuals who have had the HPV vaccine should still receive regular screenings.

Smoking can increase the risk of cervical cancer. Individuals who smoke are about twice as likely to get cervical cancer, compared to those who do not smoke. Research shows smoking may damage the cells of the cervix and weaken the immune system, making it harder to fight off HPV infections.

Other Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer Include:

  • Having been treated before for cervical cancer or for abnormal cells that may become cancer.
  • Using birth control pills for five years or more.
  • Given birth three or more times.
  • Having multiple sexual partners.
  • Having HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, or another condition that compromises our immune system and increases risk of infection.
  • Having a mother who used DES (diethylstilbestrol) during pregnancy.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has established screening recommendations. Screenings for cervical cancer should start around age 21. There are two screening tests that can detect cervical cancer early or help prevent it:

  • Pap Test (or Pap Smear):
    • A Pap test looks for changes in cells that are taken from the cervix and sent to a lab to be looked at under a microscope. It is most often done during a routine pelvic exam. If the Pap test shows cells that are not normal and may become cancerous, your health care provider will contact you.
  • High-Risk (HR) HPV test:
    • The HR HPV test looks for types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer. The HPV test can be done at the same time as the Pap test. A positive result for HR HPV means that your health care provider should follow up with you often to make sure that abnormal cells do not develop.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on cervical cancer screenings, resulting in many people missing appointments. New Yorkers due for a cervical cancer screening should not wait and should call a health care provider to schedule an appointment right away.

New Yorkers who do not have health insurance can contact the New York State Cancer Services Program to find free or low-cost cancer screenings. For information on where to find a local cancer services program, view the Department's Cancer Community Program List.

The Medicaid Cancer Treatment Program (MCTP) is a Medicaid program for eligible individuals in need of treatment for cervical, breast, colorectal, or prostate cancer (and, in some cases, pre-cancerous conditions of these cancers).

Frequently asked questions about cervical cancer can be found here, including symptoms, risk factors, and how to lower your chances of getting cervical cancer.

The Department works closely with the NYS Cancer Consortium's HPV Coalition, local health departments and Cancer Prevention in Action partners to increase HPV vaccination rates and reduce the burden of HPV‐related cancers and diseases.

For more information about the HPV vaccine, including who should get it and when, visit the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine webpage.