If you haven’t had a pap smear or human papillomavirus (HPV) test recently, there’s no better time than now, given that January is cervical cancer awareness month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women get yearly screenings to help prevent cervical cancer starting at age 21. This is mainly accomplished through pap smears and HPV tests, since nearly all instances of cervical cancer are caused by HPV.
What is Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is a slow-growing, highly preventable and curable form of cancer that occurs when cells from the cervix grow abnormally within other tissues and organs outside of the cervix. It’s diagnosed among 13,000 women in the United States each year, but can be prevented through early detection or vaccination against HPV.
How can you get Cervical Cancer?
Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, which is sexually transmitted. The most common ways that HPV is transmitted are vaginal and anal sex.
How do doctors check for cervical cancer?
Doctors commonly use two different tests to find and prevent cervical cancer—the Pap smear and the HPV test. Your first pap smear should be at age 21, according to the CDC. If the test results come back normal, you won’t need to be tested again for another three years. If you’re older than 30, you can continue to get a pap smear every three years as long as the results come back normal. Alternatively, you can get an HPV test—if results from that test come back clear, you can wait five years before your next HPV test. Your last option is to get an HPV test and a pap smear—if the results come back normal, you won’t need another test for five years. Typically, these tests are given to women through age 65.
Pap and HPV screening are sometimes different based upon the discretion of your AOA provider. Please communicate with them about your personal screening plan to keep you safe. However, a pelvic exam (visual and internal) is still recommended annually to screen for vaginal, vulvar and ovarian cancer.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
Sometimes cervical cancer doesn’t have any symptoms at all, especially during the disease’s early stages. Later, it can cause abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, such as bleeding after sex, and pelvic pain. If you notice anything seems off, it’s always a good idea to see your gynecologist.
How is cervical cancer treated?
Treatment for cervical cancer will depend on the type of cancer and the extent to which it has spread, but may include chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.
Are there any risk factors for cervical cancer?
Aside from HPV, a few other factors increase a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer. According to the CDC, these include cigarette smoking, using birth control for five or more years, having HIV, having numerous sexual partners, and having given birth to three or more kids.
Is there a vaccine for cervical cancer?
You can’t get a vaccine specifically for cervical cancer, but most people can get the highly successful HPV vaccine, which protects against the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. The vaccine is given in a series of two or three shots and recommended for both males and females age nine through 26. Recently, the FDA approved use of the vaccine for adult men and women up to age 45.
If you have any concerns about cervical cancer and want to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, call Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com.