How Cervical Cancer Screenings Can Save Your Life
Each year, more than 13,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with and more than 4,000 women will die from cervical cancer. It is the fourth most common type of cancer in women worldwide, but because it develops over time, it is also one of the most preventable.
Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines
- All women should begin cervical cancer testing at age 21. Women age 21 to 29 should be screened for cervical cancer at least every three years.
- For women age 30 to 65 who want to lengthen the screening interval, they can be screened with a combination of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) testing every five years. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. It has 150 variant types and 15 of these types have been found to cause cervical cancer. HPV is associated with more than 90 percent of cervical and anal cancers as well as 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancers.
There are some factors that can increase your risk of cervical cancer, and your doctor may recommend more frequent screenings regardless of your age. These include:
- Smoking, which increases the risk of cervical cancer associated with HPV
- A diagnosis of cervical cancer or a Pap smear that shows precancerous cells
- HIV infection
- Weakened immune system due to organ transplant, chemotherapy or chronic corticosteroid use
The most common method to test for cervical cancer is a Pap smear, also called a Pap test.
- During a Pap smear, your doctor will collect cells from your cervix with a small brush or tool. For most women, it’s painless or feels like a small scratch.
- The Pap smear can detect changes in your cervical cells that suggest cancer may develop in the future.
Parents can reduce the number of cervical cancer diagnoses by getting their children the HPV vaccine.
The HPV vaccine can provide protection from this common infection. Most commonly known as Gardasil-9, the vaccine is universally recommended by physicians and is 97 percent effective in targeting several strains of HPV, significantly reducing the risk of future cancers.
- Both healthcare providers and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) highly recommend starting HPV vaccination at age 11 to 12 for both females and males. Vaccinating before the teenage years helps maximize immunity and can provide immunity before potential exposure through sexual activity. It can easily be incorporated into your child’s routine vaccination schedules.
- The vaccine is comprised of a two- or three-dose sequence depending on age and other patient-specific circumstances.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, which is a great time to schedule your annual wellness visit with your gynecologist to discuss cervical cancer screening.
Learn more about cervical cancer screenings by scheduling an appointment with an OB/GYN today.