Three Steps to Protect Against Cervical Cancer
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and the American Cancer Society estimates that about 13,130 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in 2020, with Texas having some of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the United States. Cervical cancer is most frequently diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44, with Hispanic women being the most likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer. However, cervical cancer rarely occurs in women who have been getting regular tests to screen for cervical cancer before the age of 65. At Women’s Health Texas we take preventative care seriously, and receiving the right tests and screenings can help find cancer at an early stage before symptoms appear. Here are three simple ways you can help protect yourself against cervical cancer:
- Get vaccinated against HPV
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly all cervical cancer cases are due to the human papillomavirus (HPV). By age 50, at least four out of every five women will have had an HPV infection. But the good news is that 90% of these strains are preventable through vaccination.
The series of the HPV vaccine is recommended for boys and girls who are 11 or 12 years old, but girls can be started as early as 9 years old and be vaccinated up through age 26. Vaccination has recently also been expanded to include older adults to provide protection against HPV strains they have not yet been exposed to. Women’s Health Texas offers vaccines for certain conditions and is an important step in protecting your health.
- Be sure to have a Pap test
One of the primary screening methods for cervical cancer is to have a routine Pap test. Often completed in conjunction with your in-office pelvic exam, the test collects a sample of cervical cells and is then reviewed for abnormal or pre-cancerous changes in the cells of your cervix. It is very effective in detecting cervical cancer in the early stages before it spreads to other parts of the body.
Not sure when to get one? The American Cancer Society recommends:
- Pap tests should begin at age 21 and continue testing every 3 years up to age 29.
- Women 30 to 65 years old are recommended to have a Pap test every 5 years if co-testing with HPV, or every 3 years with just a Pap test.
- Based on your provider’s recommendations, women over 65 that have not had any serious pre-cancers in the last 30 years or have been regularly screened in the previous 10 years may not need to be screened.
If you’ve had irregular Pap tests, you may still need a Pap test annually or more frequently. Also, if you have been vaccinated against HPV, you should still follow the guidelines above, unless otherwise directed by your physician. To learn more about Pap tests, click here.
- Schedule your annual well-woman exam
A very easy way to be screened for cervical cancer is to determine your needs by talking with your Women’s Health Texas provider during your annual well-woman exam. Based on your age and health needs, certain tests and vaccinations may not be needed every year to ensure your overall health. It is important to talk with your provider about when you are due for them and to address any concerns you have. Conversations like these lead to early detection and maintaining your healthiest self. These appointments also provide an opportunity to ask questions or inform your doctor of pain, discomfort or issues that are important to raise. Request an appointment with your Women’s Health Texas provider.