Cervical and Breast Cancer: How to Protect Yourself

Take good care of your body with simple steps that can help you avoid common cancers.

Faye Yin, MD
Faye Yin, MD

“Education about breast and cervical cancer is so important for women,” says Faye Yin, MD, oncologist/ hematologist at Jersey City Medical Center (JCMC) and a member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group. “Early detection saves lives. Cancer is most treatable when caught in its earliest stages, and screening can do that.

“Some patients have told me they’re afraid of tests, but they shouldn’t be,” she says. “A Pap test for cervical cancer and a mammogram for breast cancer is easy to do with minimal discomfort if any.”

Protect Against Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer starts in the cervix, the opening part of the uterus (womb), which connects the vagina (birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus. The main cause of cervical cancer is HPV, the human papillomavirus, which is most often passed from one person to another during sex.

Manage Your Risk Factors


A mammogram uses low-dose X-rays to see breast tissue.

  • Practice safe sex. Any new sex partner is a potential risk factor for getting HPV. Proper use of condoms can provide some protection against HPV.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking increases the risk of getting cervical cancer.
  • Eat a healthy diet, including lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Be especially cautious if you have a weakened immune system, which can result from taking immunosuppressant drugs or from having HIV/AIDS.
  • Get the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine. This shot, given in two or three doses, can prevent the development of cervical cancer. Doctors recommend that routine vaccination be given to both boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 12 before they have sexual contact and are exposed to HPV. If you have not yet been vaccinated, discuss the shot with your doctor.

Get Screened for Cervical Cancer

What is an HPV and Pap test?

In a Pap test, a healthcare professional places a speculum (a plastic instrument) to hold the vaginal walls apart to see the cervix. A small sample of cells is collected from the cervix and sent to a lab to check the genetic material (DNA) of human papillomavirus and detect changes in cervical cells that suggest cancer may develop in the future.

When should I get a Pap test?

The American Cancer Society says that women between the ages of 25 and 65 should have an HPV test with or without a Pap test every five years, or a Pap test every three years.

How do I get a Pap test?

A Pap test should be part of the pelvic exam that you get at a routine yearly physical. If you have not had a Pap test, speak with your primary care provider.

Protect Against Breast Cancer

Manage Your Risk Factors

There is no guaranteed way to prevent breast cancer, but there are ways to lower your risk of getting it.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Increased body weight and weight gain as an adult are linked to breast cancer risk.
  • Be active. The American Cancer Society recommends moderate activity (enough to make you breathe hard) for 150 to 300 minutes each week, ideally spread out over the course of the week.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol. Women who drink should have no more than one alcoholic drink each day.
  • Eat a healthy diet, one that’s low in fat, sugary drinks, processed foods, and red meat, but high in fruits and vegetables.
  • Don’t smoke. Even secondhand smoke exposure can increase risk.
  • Breastfeed. Research indicates it may play a role in breast cancer prevention.

Get Screened for Breast Cancer

What is a mammogram?

A low-dose X-ray can find breast cancer early, when it’s small, and before a lump can be found. The machine uses two plates to gently compress the breast and spread tissue apart to see it more clearly in the X-ray.

When should I get a mammogram?

The American Cancer Society says that women between 40 and 44 have the option to start having screening mammograms, and all women should begin having yearly mammograms by age 45.

How do I get a mammogram?

Ask your doctor for a referral to a certified facility that does mammograms.

To find a primary care physician, call (888) 724-7123, or visit Find a Doctor. To schedule a mammogram, visit the Christie Kerr Women's Health Center at Jersey City Medical Center.

RWJBarnabas Health and Jersey City Medical Center, together with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey—the state’s only NCIDesignated Comprehensive Cancer Center—provide close-to-home access to the latest treatment options. For more information, visit our Cancer page or call 844.CANCERNJ. For information on other cancer screenings, visit our Cancer page or call 844.CANCERNJ.