The Importance of Cervical Cancer Screenings

Recommended screenings and vaccinations significantly reduce number of cervical cancer cases. Two in 10 upstate New York women still don’t follow screening recommendations.

The number of diagnosed cases of cervical cancer in New York State has dropped nearly 40 percent since 1976, and deaths from the disease are down 50 percent in that same time period, according to research findings issued by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

In 1976 in New York state, 1,300 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer, and there were 500 deaths from the disease. In 2016, 800 women in the state were diagnosed with the disease, and there were 250 deaths.

“The downward trend in cervical cancer diagnoses and deaths is a medical success story that is directly attributable to women getting regular Pap tests to spot precancerous cells before they turn into cancer, and to parents following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that girls and boys, starting at age 11, receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine,” said Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Medical Director LouAnne Giangreco, M.D. 

Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV. According to the CDC, more than 90 percent of cervical cancer cases can be prevented through screenings and vaccinations.

“Screenings are very important for early diagnosis, because there typically are no signs or symptoms of early cervical cancer,” said Giangreco. “In spite of all we know about the importance of screenings, 20 percent of upstate New York women ages 21 to 65 don’t get their recommended screenings.” 

Screening Recommendations for Women

  • Ages 21 to 29: Have first Pap test at age 21 and get one every three years through age 29.
  • Ages 30 to 65: Get a Pap test every three years, or have simultaneous Pap and HPV tests every five years.
  • Ages 65 and older: No Pap test required if recent Pap tests are normal.

The best way to prevent the occurrence of cervical cancer is to safeguard against HPV, a common, sexually transmitted virus. In addition to causing nearly all cases of cervical cancer, HPV also can lead to various other cancers among women and men. The HPV vaccine protects against these cancers.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that the vaccine be administered to girls and boys between the ages of 11 and 12, although children as young as age 9 can be vaccinated. This recommendation is fully supported by Choosing Wisely, an initiative of the ABIM Foundation and Consumer Reports. Males and females who didn’t get the vaccine when they were younger may still be able to be vaccinated between the ages of 13 and 26.

Rates of HPV vaccination vary across the state and the nation (Percent of adolescents who received their first of three doses of HPV from 2013 to 2016; BCBSA Health of America):

  • United States: 28.7 percent
  • New York state: 27 percent
  • Buffalo-Niagara Falls: 27.4 percent
  • Jamestown: 26.1 percent
  • Rochester: 46.1 percent
  • Syracuse: 43.4 percent


Learn more about cervical cancer screenings and vaccinations by talking with your doctor, or by visiting for information from Choosing Wisely. 

View and download the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield infographic, “Cervical Cancer: A Success Story in Prevention,” at

For further reading, visit the A Healthier Upstate blog for the following articles: Cervical Cancer Survivor Christine Baze Wants Everyone to Get This Vaccination,” a story about a woman who survived cervical cancer, and “11 Facts about HPV and Cervical Cancer”.