Should Pregnant and Lactating Women Get the Coronavirus Vaccine?

One of the most pressing concerns right now among pregnant and lactating individuals is whether to get a COVID-19 vaccination when it becomes available. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant patients with symptomatic COVID-19 are at an increased risk for severe illness compared with individuals who are not pregnant.

Given this risk, the general recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the CDC is that pregnant and lactating women should be offered a vaccination if they are part of certain populations, such as frontline essential workers, and at the discretion and direction of their provider. More specifically, ACOG makes the following recommendations:

  • COVID-19 vaccines should not be withheld from pregnant individuals who meet criteria for vaccination based on (ACIP)-recommended priority groups.
  • COVID-19 vaccines should be offered to lactating individuals similar to non-lactating individuals when they meet criteria for receipt of the vaccine based on prioritization groups outlined by the ACIP.

The prioritization groups outlined by the ACIP continue to evolve as time goes on and more vaccines become available, but they currently include healthcare workers and frontline essential workers (including first responders, educators, food and agriculture workers, manufacturing workers, corrections workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, public transit workers, and grocery store workers), as well as long-term care facility residents, adults 65 and older, and people with high-risk medical conditions who are between the age of 16 and 64.

Compared with non-pregnant individuals, people who are pregnant with symptomatic COVID-19 are at an increased risk of death, ICU admission, and the need for ventilation. Pregnant individuals may also be at an increased risk for preterm birth and other adverse pregnancy outcomes. As is seen in the broader population, pregnant Hispanic and Black individuals are experiencing disproportionately higher infection and death rates from COVID-19. And among women who are Asian and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, there is a heightened risk of ICU admission.

But despite knowing that pregnant women are at a higher risk of severe infection, this still leaves a big question: is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for pregnant women? At this point, the data on COVID-19 vaccine safety during pregnancy is still limited. Vaccine manufacturers are monitoring people who became pregnant while enrolled in vaccine clinical trials, and further studies among pregnant individuals are planned.

“Based on how mRNA vaccines work, experts believe they are unlikely to pose a specific risk for people who are pregnant,” the CDC reports. “However, the actual risks of mRNA vaccines to the pregnant person and her fetus are unknown because these vaccines have not been studied in pregnant women.”

If you’re not sure about vaccination, remember—the COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory, and your healthcare provider can help answer any questions or concerns you may have. You may want to speak with a doctor about how the vaccine works, its potential side effects, the lack of vaccine data among pregnant individuals, and how COVID-19 could affect you and your fetus. You can also find out more about vaccine recommendations for pregnant and lactating women on this CDC information page.

“AOA physicians are aligned with the recommendations from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)”, says Monte Swarup, MD, FACOG. “The current recommendation is that the vaccination should be available to pregnant and lactating women if they are part of certain populations, such as frontline essential workers, and at the discretion and direction of their provider. The research on vaccine safety during pregnancy and lactation is currently limited, but we believe the vaccine is unlikely to pose a specific risk among pregnant individuals and those who are breastfeeding.”

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

8 Secrets to Being a Happy Mom

There’s no denying that becoming a mother is often an experience that’s filled with joy. At the same time, it can be tricky to soak in all the good moments when you’re also feeling stressed and exhausted. Many new moms are sleep deprived, busy trying to resolve items on a never-ending to-do list, stressed, and dragged down in a quest for perfection. If that sounds familiar, we have eight tips to help you bring more happiness into your life as a new mom.

Savor the peaceful moments.
Whether it’s an evening bath, an afternoon with a friend, or heading outside for a walk at lunch, it’s important to take some time to yourself and also to appreciate the quiet and peaceful moments in your day. Use these small moments to ease stress and rejuvenate for the remainder of your day.

Treat yourself to something nice.
Every once in a while, a small splurge may be exactly what you need. This could be as simple as some new make-up or a book or magazine to flip through when the baby is asleep.

Discover the wonder of audiobooks.
As a new mom, it’s normal to feel like you’re constantly busy with no free time to indulge in any leisurely hobbies and activities. One way to reclaim some time for leisure is to download an audiobook onto your phone for easy listening while you breastfeed or take a stroller walk. A local library is a great way to access audiobooks free of charge, or you can try an app like Audible. Not into audiobooks? Feel free to swap out for a guided meditation!

Try a jogging stroller.
It’s hard to fit workouts into your daily routine when you have a baby at home. But if you’re a runner (or have been thinking about getting into running) you likely won’t regret getting a jogging stroller. Along with the benefits of the workout itself, this is also a great way to treat you and your baby to some fresh air.

Bake or cook a meal you love.
Cooking and baking are both a great way to relieve stress. Even better, you’ll end up with something delicious to eat for a meal or snack on when you’re done.

Have a dance party with your little one.
Music can turn any bad mood around, right? If you’re feeling tired, antsy, or simply in a bad mood, throw on a favorite song (better yet, make a whole playlist) and have a dance party with your baby right at home.

Try meditation or yoga.
If you’re feeling tense, stressed, and irritable, it may be time to start a yoga or meditation practice. This doesn’t need to be a crazy or daunting endeavor—start small by devoting just a bit of time out of each day, and you can always work your way up. There are many yoga classes and meditations available on YouTube, or you can try an app like Insight Timer, Calm, or Headspace.

Stop putting so much pressure on yourself.
It’s completely natural to want to get everything right and do everything you can for your family, but many moms can seriously benefit from reducing the amount of pressure they put on themselves each day. Try to loosen your expectations, remember that you’re doing enough, and know that no one expects you to be perfect.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

Can Sex Make You Look Younger? One Researcher Says Yes

When asked, most of us are aware of at least a handful of benefits to having sex— pleasure and stress relief being just a couple of them. But did you know sex may make you look younger, too? According to researcher and clinical psychologist Dr. David Weeks, who is based in the United Kingdom, having sex regularly can make you look somewhere between five and seven years younger than you actually are.

To conduct his research, Dr. Weeks interviewed men and women of all ages over a period of more than 10 years. Among the study participants who were between 40 and 50 years old, those who looked youngest had sex 50 percent more frequently.

Weeks suggests that sexual pleasure and satisfaction are key factors in preserving our youth. Intercourse with the same partner is most beneficial, Dr. Weeks says, because casual sex can bring on emotional states like anxiety and a lack of security, both of which are associated with a loss of youth.

“Sexual satisfaction is a major contributor to quality of life, ranking at least as high as spiritual or religious commitment and other morale factors, so more positive attitudes towards mature sex should be vigorously promoted,” he is quoted as saying in the Huffington Post. “Sexuality is not the prerogative of younger people and nor should it be.”

While Dr. Weeks’ research is promising, further research on this topic is needed to learn more about whether sex really makes us look younger, and if so, why. But aside from potentially making us look younger, sex comes with a lot of other amazing benefits, like increasing your confidence, lowering your blood pressure and heart attack risk, making your skin glow, reducing pain, and increasing libido. It can even boost your immune system.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

Is It Ever Safe to Stop Getting Mammograms?

A mammogram is a special type of breast x-ray that allows medical professionals to look for changes in breast tissue and detect early signs of breast cancer. Regular mammograms are extremely important because they’re the best way to detect breast cancer early, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). In some cases, mammograms are able to detect breast cancer three years before it can be felt or detected otherwise.

You’re probably beginning to get the point by now that regular mammograms are an important step in protecting your health, even if you don’t have any problems or symptoms related to your breasts. But are mammograms necessary throughout life? Keep reading to find out.

Here’s how often you need to get mammograms
For women with no history of cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends seeing your doctor for a mammogram every year from age 40 through age 54, and every other year from that point on. From age 55 onwards, you can transition to a mammogram every other year until you are 75. Once you hit 75, you’ll want to have a conversation with healthcare provider about whether you should continue to have mammograms, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

If you have a history of breast cancer, the recommendations for mammogram screening may be different. Recommendations from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the American Cancer Society suggest continuing yearly mammograms for women who have had a unilateral mastectomy or lumpectomy. These mammograms may play an important role in detecting a recurrence of breast cancer or new breast cancer. 

But among women who are older than 75, the guidelines aren’t as cut and dry. ASCO points out two scenarios where regular mammograms may not be recommended or necessary.

The first scenario is among women with significant medical conditions, such as stroke or heart disease, that may pose a higher risk of death than breast cancer. In these situations, it’s not entirely clear whether continuing mammograms through the lifespan is necessary, ASCO points out.

The next scenario is among women who were previously treated for lower-risk types of breast cancer and are now taking medication that lowers their risk of breast cancer. In these situations, mammograms may not as important compared to a case where someone isn’t on this type of medication.

Since mammogram recommendations vary from one woman to another, the best thing you can do once you get close to age 75 is have a discussion with your healthcare provider to come up with a plan that makes the most sense for you.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

Improve Your Sex Life with Six Simple Exercises

When life gets busy, it’s easy to let exercise fall out of your regular routine. But we have some potentially motivating news that may encourage you to keep exercise in your day-to-day life. In addition to a tremendous number of health benefits, exercise may also boost your sex life by increasing arousal, desire, and satisfaction. Sex boosts sexual function for number of reasons, such as by increasing blood flow, improving strength and stamina, and increasing levels of testosterone, which may potentially increase sex drive.

Family morning exercise. Mother doing plank, father holding their baby on her back, so he would ride her, including child in activity. Family quarantine, domestic life in self-isolation. Sunset light from the windows.

With that in mind, here are six exercises to improve your sex life:

Go for a jog or bike ride.
Cardiovascular exercise improves your blood flow, including to the regions you experience sexual pleasure. Research shows that cardiovascular exercise can increase pleasure for men and women, leading to increased arousal for women and stronger erections for men. Additionally, getting regular cardiovascular exercise—whether by running, walking, swimming, cycling, or another activity you love—has other benefits on your sex life, such as boosting endurance, strength and flexibility.

Get in the routine of doing Kegels.
Kegels help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which play an important role in bladder control and may also benefit your sex life. Here are some tips for getting Kegel exercises right, courtesy of the Mayo Clinic:

  • Start by identifying your pelvic floor muscles—an easy way to do so is to stop urinating mid-stream.
  • Work on your technique. “Imagine you are sitting on a marble and tighten your pelvic muscles as if you’re lifting the marble. Try it for three seconds at a time, then relax for a count of three,” the Mayo Clinic suggests
  • Make sure you’re only tightening the pelvic floor muscles rather than engaging additional muscles. And don’t hold your breath!
  • Repeat until you get the hang of it. The Mayo Clinic suggests completing three sets of between 10 and 15 repetitions each day. One great thing about Kegels is you can do them from anywhere.

Challenge yourself to a plank.
Planks and other core exercises can help improve your sex life by building strength, balance, and stamina. To get your core at its strongest, think planks, crunches, and other similar exercises.

For the perfect plank pose, start on your hands and knees with your knees directly beneath your hips and your hands directly beneath your shoulders. Extend your feet back one at a time, maintaining a straight line from your head to your heels, so that your body resembles the shape of a plank. Tighten your abs, glutes, and quadriceps and hold for 30 seconds. After resting for 30 seconds to a minute, try holding plank pose for another 30 seconds. Check out this piece from Women’s Health for a visual.

Get strong with mountain climbers.
Requiring no equipment but your body, mountain climbers are a great way to work on stability and balance. This is a particularly good exercise because it requires many of the same muscles you activate during sex.

To do mountain climbers, get in the position you would assume for a plank or a pushup. While keeping your back straight, bend one knee into the chest and then return it to the starting position. Then do the same with the other leg. Once you get the hang of it, begin to move more quickly, switching back and forth between legs.

Strengthen with a bridge.
In addition to strengthening the pelvic floor, bridges also strengthen the glutes and hamstrings, both of which are used as you thrust during sex.

To practice this exercise, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground with your arms extended along your sides. Push through your heels as you raise your pelvis, keeping your shoulders and upper back on the mat. Squeeze your glutes when you reach the top of your bridge pose before lowering your pelvis back to the ground in a slow and controlled movement. Repeat 10-15 times. Alternatively, you can hold your bridge pose for 30-60 seconds.

Perfect your pushups.
Pushups are a full-body strength-building exercise that are extra helpful if you prefer to be on top during sex and for any positions that require full body engagement.

To do a pushup, begin by coming into a plank-like position with straight arms and palms beneath your shoulders. With your core engaged and while maintaining a stable and straight line from head to feet, slowly bend your elbows and lower your body until your chest hovers just above the ground. Push into your hands as you extend your arms and return to the position you started, again maintaining a straight line to avoid sagging in the hips or any other part of the body.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

Don’t Cancel Your Doctor Appointments During the Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown many changes and challenges our way. Many aspects of our lives that were once routine—like having friends over for dinner—now feel like a distant memory. And while it’s important to change our habits to protect our health and reduce opportunities for COVID-19 transmission, some aspects of life shouldn’t be avoided or put on hold, including medical care.

If you’ve recently cancelled a routine medical visit or thought twice about seeking out care for a new ailment that’s bothering you, you’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), up to 40% of adults reported that they have delayed or avoided medical care over the course of the pandemic due to COVID-19-related concerns. Some even avoided urgent care and visits to the emergency department, as evidenced by a decline in the number of emergency visits for heart attack, stroke, and other conditions.

Unfortunately, in some cases, you could be putting your health at risk by avoiding medical care. Determining whether to stay home or visit a healthcare facility during these challenging times is a decision that must be carefully considered—there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to medical care during a pandemic.

Here are a few points to keep in mind:

Don’t avoid visits to the emergency room.
If you’re facing an emergency medical situation, it’s important to see a healthcare provider, whether at a hospital, urgent care facility, or at your physician’s office. If you’re having trouble breathing, suffering from chest pain or pressure, experiencing uncontrolled bleeding, and other emergency conditions, it’s best to seek treatment rather than stay home.

Continue your treatment for chronic conditions.
It’s important to continue to see your healthcare provider to manage chronic conditions. Many conditions can be managed virtually, while some require visiting a healthcare facility, so it’s a good idea to speak to your physician to come up with a plan to continue your care in the safest way possible. If you are at increased risk for COVID-19, speaking to your healthcare provider to come up with a care plan is particularly important.

Don’t skip out on routine cancer screenings
If you have an upcoming mammogram or pap smear, it’s best not to put this off‚ especially if you’re at high risk for cancer and other conditions. These exams are particularly important if you have a personal or family history of cancer or have received abnormal results from a screening in the past.

Visit your provider for important vaccines
You may be tempted to skip a flu vaccine this year, but the CDC reports that the influenza vaccine is more important than ever before this fall. In addition to seeing your physician, you may be able to get this vaccine at a pharmacy or a walk-in clinic. 

Look into COVID-19 safety protocols ahead of time.
Many healthcare facilities list their COVID-19 safety protocols on their website—take a look before leaving the house (or even before making an appointment) so you know what to expect and can plan ahead. Your provider may offer the option to fill out forms online or to wait in your car until it’s time to see your healthcare provider.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

What to Know for the 2020-2021 Flu Season

The flu season is upon us. The exact timing of flu season changes from year to year, but influenza tends to become more common starting in October and then ramp up from there, with the most virus activity occurring between December and February.

Here are some of the most common questions about influenza and the 2020-2021 flu season:

What is the flu?
More formally known as influenza, flu is a respiratory illness that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. It’s contagious and can range from mild to severe, in some cases even leading to death.

What are some common flu symptoms?
Influenza affects the respiratory system, so you’ll notice many symptoms related to your throat, nose, and lungs. Some of the most common symptoms include a sore throat, stuffy nose, cough, fever, body and muscle aches, headaches, and fatigue. 

It’s important to seek medical care right away if you experience more severe symptoms and complications, such as chest pain or pressure, difficulty breathing, seizures, lack of urination, severe weakness or muscle pain, confusion, persistent dizziness.

Should I get a flu shot?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly everyone who is six months old or older should get a flu vaccine. Even though the flu vaccine isn’t 100% effective in preventing the flu, the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from getting it.

While the vaccine is safe and recommended for most people, there are some exceptions, including people with allergies to the flu vaccine or any of its ingredients and people who have had Guillain-Barré Syndrome in the past. If you have any questions about getting a flu shot, it’s a good idea to seek guidance from a healthcare provider.

When is the best time to get a flu shot?
After getting a flu shot it takes about two weeks for your body to develop flu antibodies (these help protect you from getting sick if you come in contact with the influenza virus), so it’s a good idea to get your flu shot before the virus starts spreading widely in your community. Early fall is a good time, but if you forget or are unable to get one then for some reason, flu shots are usually still available later into the flu season.

What flu vaccines are recommended this flu season?
This season’s flu vaccines were updated to better match viruses expected to be circulating in the United States. For the 2020-2021 flu season, providers may choose to administer any licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine (IIV, RIV4, or LAIV4) with no preference for any one vaccine over another.

Can I have flu and COVID-19 simultaneously?
It’s possible to have both the flu and COVID-19 or another respiratory illness at the same time, though researchers aren’t sure how common this will be. With the possibility that the flu and coronavirus will both be spreading at the same time this winter, the CDC says getting a flu shot this year is more important than ever before. Diagnostic testing can help determine if you are sick with flu or COVID-19.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

Stress is Soaring During the Coronavirus Pandemic, So Are Divorce Rates

Tensions have been running high since the coronavirus pandemic swept the country earlier this year, and divorce rates in the United States have increased. In a recent survey by Legal Templates, 31% of couples say the quarantine has been damaging to their relationship. The company has also seen a 34% increase in sales of its divorce agreement template compared to this time last year.

For many couples, much of the conflict occurred early in the pandemic—survey results revealed that interest in separation was at its highest on April 13. Spending much more time at home with our loved ones can be tricky—especially when many people are also trying to work from home and care for children, too. Add in financial strain and a pandemic of unprecedented scale, and the soaring divorce rates make sense.

“It’s possible that divorces spiked as people entered what mental health and human service professionals refer to as the “disillusionment phase” of the Phases of Disaster— the time when optimism turns to discouragement, stress heightens, and negative reactions often occur,” Legal Templates commented in its survey results. 

The survey revealed a number of interesting trends—couples who got married within the past five years accounted for 58% of survey respondents who said they are pursuing a divorce during the coronavirus pandemic. Among this subset of people, this rate is 16% higher than it was last year. Meanwhile, 20% of users purchased a divorce agreement after being married for less than five months.

Another interesting finding from the survey is that couples in the South are purchasing divorce agreements at twice or even three-times the rate of couples in other geographical regions of the country.

It’s interesting to look at these findings and see how the pandemic is affecting us in many ways beyond the virus itself. A key takeaway here is that stress is much higher than usual for most people, and this impacts our lives in many ways, from our physical and mental health to our relationships with others. According to the Mayo Clinic, some common effects of stress include anxiety, headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue, change in sex drive, lack of motivation, feeling overwhelmed, feeling irritable or angry, and upset stomach. If any of those symptoms sound familiar, you’re not alone—especially these days.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

Hormone Replacement Therapy During Menopause: Is It Right for You?

Due to changing hormone levels, it’s not uncommon for women to experience a variety of symptoms during menopause, including hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, pain during sex, chills, mood changes, and difficulty sleeping.

For some women these symptoms are mild, but for others, these symptoms really interfere with life. Hormone replacement therapy is a medication that can be used to replace the estrogen that your body stops producing in menopause. Hormone replacement therapy can be a helpful way to relieve hot flashes and other menopause symptoms, and may also protect against osteoporosis. That said, there are some drawbacks to this treatment, and some cases where it may not be a good fit.

Hormone replacement therapy comes in different forms.
Estrogen therapy is one type of hormone replacement therapy. Given in a low dose, estrogen therapy is available as a pill, a patch that’s placed on the abdomen, and as a topical gel, cream, or spray. If someone is suffering from vaginal burning, dryness, or itchiness, their physician may prescribe a vaginal estrogen that’s available as a tablet, vaginal ring, or cream.

Another option for hormone replacement therapy is typically called combination therapy. Like its name suggests, this medication combines estrogen and progestin, which is a synthetic form of progesterone. Combination therapy is frequently used as a type of birth control, but can also treat menopause symptoms.

Hormone replacement therapy isn’t for everyone.
Hormone replacement therapy isn’t advised if you have a history or family history of liver disease, blood clots, certain types of cancers, heart attack or stroke. It’s also not recommended if you have problems with vaginal bleeding or think you may be pregnant.


Here are the risks.
Hormone replacement therapy comes with some risks, though these often vary depending on a woman’s lifestyle and medical history. Additionally, the level of risk varies depending on the type of hormone replacement therapy that’s taken. It is believed that hormone replacement therapy may increase the risk of heart attacks, blood clots, strokes, breast cancer, and gallbladder disease in some women.

Another point to keep in mind is that the risks of hormone replacement therapy are higher among women over the age of 60 and among women who start hormone replacement therapy more than 10 years after the onset of menopause.

If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.

5 Ways to Reduce Your Risk for Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is a slow-growing disease that develops within the cells of the cervix and is known to be silent in its early stages. Most cervical cancer is caused by strains of a very common sexually transmitted infection called human papillomavirus, or HPV. Many times, the immune system will prevent HPV from causing harm, but sometimes it can damage cervical cells in a way that can lead to cancer.

There’s no sure way to prevent cervical cancer, but taking the following steps can play a substantial role in reducing your risk.

Don’t skip your screenings.
“The most important thing you can do to help prevent cervical cancer is to have regular screening tests starting at age 21,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Screening can be accomplished in your doctor’s office in two ways:

  • A pap smear, which looks for cell changes to the cervix that may become cervical cancer in the future if left untreated.
  • An HPV test, which detects the virus itself that can cause the cellular changes that lead to cervical cancer.

Get vaccinated.
The HPV vaccine is important because it protects against the types of HPV that most frequently cause cervical cancer. The vaccine is administered in two-doses for people under the age of 15, and in three-doses for anyone 15 and older.

The vaccine is most effective when it’s given before someone has any exposure to HPV. It’s available for those aged 9 and older, but is recommended for 11- and 12-year-olds. It’s also recommended for everyone 26 and younger. Additionally, some unvaccinated people between the ages of 27 and 45 may choose to get the vaccine, depending on their risk for HPV infection. The vaccine is generally less beneficial for people who fall in this age range, because there’s a stronger likelihood of prior exposure to HPV.

If a pap smear is abnormal, be sure to follow-up on it.
If results of your pap smear are abnormal, your doctor may recommend a test called a colposcopy, which allows them to look at your cervix using a magnifying lens to detect abnormal cells. If your physician identifies abnormal cells, they’ll perform a biopsy for further testing. The colposcopy and biopsy are fairly painless, so don’t panic if you need to get one. Your physician will likely ask you to return for another pap smear at a later date. Don’t skip these tests, as they’re important in allowing your doctor to identify what’s going on in your body.

Practice safe sex.
The key takeaways here are to use condoms and limit your number of sexual partners. Using condoms is associated with lower rates of cervical cancer, according to the CDC, though there are still a lot of unknowns surrounding the effect of condoms in preventing HPV.

Limiting your number of sexual partners is also important because it may reduce your odds of being exposed to HPV infection. HPV can be passed among people through skin-to-skin contact with a part of the body that’s infected with HPV (including the vagina, vulva, cervix, penis, or anus). It’s important to understand that the virus can spread through this skin-to-skin contact even if you don’t have sex.

Keep in mind that limiting your number of sexual partners won’t put you in the clear in terms of getting HPV. The virus is very common, so you can still get HPV even if you only have one sexual partner.

Ditch smoking.
Smoking can double your risk of getting cervical cancer. Staying away from cigarettes is important in lowering your risk for cervical cancer, The American Cancer Society says. If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.