SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month, and the Women’s Health Center of Springfield wants to remind women that cervical cancer can often be found early, and sometimes even prevented entirely, by having regular Pap tests. If detected early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers.
There are two types of tests used for cervical cancer screening.
The first is the Pap test, which can discover pre-cancer cell changes, and treat them before they become cancerous or in the early stages of cancer when they are most treatable.
The second is the human papilloma virus (HPV) test, which finds HPV infections that can lead to cell changes and cancer. HPV infections can be quite common, and many are cleared by the body without problem. But, some infections do lead to cell changes that may cause cancer. The HPV test may be used with the Pap test, or to help establish the best way to treat abnormal Pap test results.
So who should have these cervical cancer screenings, and when? The American Cancer Society recommends the following:
- All women should begin cervical cancer screening at age 21.
- Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years. They should not be tested for HPV unless it is needed after an abnormal Pap test result.
- Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have both a Pap test and an HPV test every 5 years. This is the preferred approach, but it is also OK to have a Pap test alone every 3 years.
- Women over age 65 who have had regular screenings with normal results should not be screened for cervical cancer. Women who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer or pre-cancer should continue to be screened according to the recommendations of their doctor.
- Women who have had their uterus and cervix removed in a hysterectomy and have no history of cervical cancer or pre-cancer should not be screened.
- Women who have had the HPV vaccine should still follow the screening recommendations for their age group.
- Women who are at high risk for cervical cancer may need to be screened more often. Women at high risk might include those with HIV infection, organ transplant, or exposure to the drug DES. They should talk with their doctor or nurse.
The American Cancer Society no longer recommends that women get a Pap test every year, because it generally takes much longer than that, 10 to 20 years, for cervical cancer to develop and overly frequent screening could lead to procedures that are not needed.
The highest risk factor for cervical cancer is HPV infection. However, other factors come into play for cancer to develop, including:
- A weakened immune system
- Chlamydia infection
- A diet low in fruits and vegetables
- Long-term use of oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
- Being younger than 17 at your first sexual exposure
- Family history of cervical cancer
The most important thing to remember is to talk with you doctor about your risks for cervical cancer, and plan a screening schedule that makes sense for your personal situation. Call today and get screened.