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Cervical cancer is an overgrowth of abnormal cells that starts in the cervix — the opening between the uterus and the vagina.

Cervical cancer is caused by certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus can spread through sexual activities and skin-to-skin contact.

Most of the time, HPV infections go away on their own without causing problems. But sometimes the virus can lead to cancer later on.

According to research, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women across the globe.

This article explains how common cervical cancer is at different ages. Learn how to protect yourself from becoming infected with the virus that causes cervical cancer.

According to data reported by the National Cancer Institute, cervical cancer is most often diagnosed between ages 35 and 44.

While it’s possible to develop cervical cancer in your 20s, it’s not common. That’s because cervical cancer cells can take years to develop.

According to National Cancer Institute statistics, here’s how common cervical cancer is in the United States, up to the age of 64.

Percent of new cases in ages 20 to 64

  • Younger than 20: Less than 0.1 percent
  • Ages 20 to 34: 13.7 percent
  • Ages 35 to 44: 22.8 percent
  • Ages 45 to 54: 22.4 percent
  • Ages 55 to 64: 19.7 percent
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Although cervical cancer can be diagnosed as early as 20 or beyond the age of 60, it’s most often diagnosed between the ages of 35 and 44.

Research indicates that women over 65 make up about 20 percent of cervical cancer diagnoses. This statistic concerns some researchers, because many healthcare professionals stop cervical cancer screenings at age 65.

Without routine screening, cervical cancer in older women might go undetected, raising the risk of worse outcomes.

According to the National Cancer Institute, here’s how common cervical cancer is in the United States in ages 65 and above.

Percent of new cases in ages 65+

  • Ages 65 to 74: 12.2 percent
  • Ages 75 to 84: 6.4 percent
  • Ages 85 and older: 2.6 percent
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Studies show that cervical cancer occurs more often among Hispanic women than among either white or non-Hispanic Black women in the United States.

While Hispanic women are vaccinated for HPV at roughly the same rates, it’s possible that other health disparities prevent Hispanic women from getting routine screenings or early treatment.

The American Cancer Society reports that non-Hispanic Black women have a 30 percent higher risk of developing cervical cancer than white women. But that gap has almost completely closed in younger women.

The rate of new cervical cancer rates in Black women and white women under 50 years old is now about the same.

It’s hard to completely eliminate your risk of getting HPV or cervical cancer because the HPV virus is so common.

However, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and lower your risk. Let’s look at these factors in more detail.

Get the vaccine

Gardasil 9 is the only FDA-approved HPV vaccine in use in the United States. It enables your body to fight many different types of HPV, including:

  • HPV 16 and 18, which cause close to 70 percent of cervical cancers
  • HPV 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58, which cause 10 to 20 percent of cervical cancers

Two other vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, are available in other parts of the world. They protect against HPV types 16 and 18, which cause the majority of cervical cancer cases.

The CDC recommends that children be vaccinated between 11 and 12 years of age to make sure they’re protected before becoming sexually active. According to the CDC, anyone can be vaccinated by age 26.

The vaccine isn’t always recommended for people between 27 and 45 unless there are special circumstances. That’s because many people in this age range have already been exposed to the HPV virus.

Have routine screenings

The CDC recommends that women ages 21 to 65 be tested regularly for cervical cancer. Screenings do not prevent cervical cancer. But, if a test shows that pre-cancerous cells are present, you can begin treatment to stop the cells from becoming cancerous.

There are two kinds of tests to consider. The first is a Pap test, which detects pre-cancerous and cancerous cells. The earlier cervical cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat.

The second is an HPV test that can detect the presence of HPV in your cervical cells. This test may be able to detect an HPV infection in your cervix before any precancerous cells have developed.

An HPV test can be done on its own (a primary HPV test) or at the same time as a Pap smear (a co-test). A co-test won’t seem any different from a normal Pap smear. The cells that are collected will be tested for both HPV and abnormal cell changes.

Screening guidelines for women ages 25 to 65

The American Cancer Society (ACS) cervical cancer screening guidelines are as follows:

  • A primary HPV test every 5 years or
  • A co-test every 5 years (HPV test and Pap smear at the same time) or
  • A Pap smear alone every 3 years
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For women over the age of 65, the decision to continue cervical cancer screening depends on individual risk factors and medical history.

Usually, women who have had regular screenings in the past 10 years with normal results and no history of abnormal cells can stop screening.

Use condoms

Using a condom during vaginal sex doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get HPV. That’s because the virus can spread through skin-to-skin contact involving parts of your body that aren’t protected by a condom. For instance, it’s possible to be infected with HPV through other sexual activities like oral or anal sex.

However, condom use does lower the risk of HPV infection. Because HPV is so common, you may be exposed to the virus even if you’re only having sex with one person.

Stop smoking

People who smoke have a 2 to 3 times greater risk of developing cervical cancer. The more you smoke, the more the risk increases.

If you’re concerned cervical cancer, you may want to consider quitting smoking. Talk to a doctor about the safest way to quit and how to create a successful quit plan.

Other risk factors

Research shows that the risk of cervical cancer is higher among people who have:

  • HPV and 7 or more childbirths
  • used birth control pills for 5 years or longer
  • had 6 or more sexual partners
  • HIV infection
  • taken medications used to prevent organ rejection after an organ transplant

The 5-year survival rate for cervical cancer is around 66 percent. That means after 5 years, roughly 66 percent of those who were diagnosed with cervical cancer are still living.

Here’s the good news: The 5-year survival rate for those diagnosed early, while cancer cells are limited to the cervix, jumps to nearly 92 percent.

That’s why it’s important to have routine screenings, when doctors can find and treat cancer in its earliest stage.

Cervical cancer takes years to grow, so it’s rare to develop cervical cancer in your 20s. Most cases are diagnosed between ages 35 and 44. Around 20 percent of cervical cancer cases are diagnosed in women 65 or older.

To lower your risk of cervical cancer, you can get the HPV vaccine. It’s also important to get routine cervical cancer screenings which can monitor your cervix for signs of cancer development. Early detection usually means a better chance of successful treatment and survival.