The National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC), the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), and the United States Congress designated January as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Marking January as an awareness month highlights the importance of prevention and education on cervical cancer, which is a preventable gynecologic disease.
Cervical cancer used to be one of the most common causes of cancer-related deaths for women, so awareness brings additional information on the risks of cervical cancer and encourages many women to get checked, screened, and tested during January. Through this blog, we’ll spotlight questions about cervical cancer and ways you can prevent the disease.
About Cervical Cancer
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are six different types of gynecologic cancers which can affect women: ovarian, uterine, vaginal, vulvar, fallopian tube, and cervical. Below, we answer some common questions about the cervix and cervical cancer.
Where is the cervix? The cervix is located at the narrow end of the uterus and connects the uterus (womb) to the vagina (birth canal). Cervical cancer is one of the more common forms of gynecologic cancer that is preventable through screenings and testing. Beyond prevention, this type of cancer is curable if found and treated early enough.
What causes cervical cancer? The leading cause of cervical cancer is due to the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs), with around 79 million Americans currently infected. It’s also important to note that HPV is not the same as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and herpes simplex virus (HSV).
The National Cancer Institute states there are approximately 200 types of HPV. It’s important to note that the HPV virus mainly spreads through skin-to-skin contact, which means you won’t pick it up by using a hot tub or pool, or from using public restrooms.
Who is at risk for cervical cancer? All women have a chance of getting cervical cancer. Additionally, smoking, having HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), birthing three or more children, and using birth control pills for longer than five years can increase a woman’s risk of getting cervical cancer.
What are the symptoms? Some cervical cancers don’t produce any symptoms, but if the disease is advanced enough, symptoms might include unusual bleeding or vaginal discharge.
How to Prevent Cervical Cancer?
Preventative testing and vaccines are the best way for women to check on their gynecologic health. There are two tests women can have done at their OBGYN: a pap smear and an HPV test.
Pap Smear: A Pap smear is a test that providers perform to evaluate abnormalities within the cervix by looking for precancers and cell changes. Pap smears also help diagnose cervical cancer early on, but they do not screen for other gynecologic cancers.
Why are pap smears important? Cervical cancer has decreased by more than 50% since providers started using pap smears!
HPV Test: The HPV test looks for the virus that causes precancerous cell changes in the cervix, and they can help identify 13-14 high-risk types of HPV.
What are the recommendations for testing?
- Pap smears should be done at age 21
- At ages 21-29, pap smears should be done every 3 years
- At ages 30-65, pap smears plus testing for HPV should be done every 3-5 years
Why should you get screened? Cervical cancer develops slowly, which means symptoms may not show up until the disease is in an advanced stage. If testing shows abnormal results, creating a treatment plan with your gynecologist may be the next step.
HPV Vaccine: Depending on the HPV vaccine, it may protect against high-risk strains or genital warts associated with cervical cancer. At Metro OBGYN, we offer the Gardasil vaccine which is a three-shot series for women (and men) 9 to 26 years old. For the Gardasil vaccine, it will protect against two high-risk strains, and also protect against 90% of genital wart cases, 70% against cervical cancer cases, 70% of vaginal cancer cases and around 50% of vulvar cancer cases.
How do you reduce the risk?
- Don’t smoke
- Use condoms during intercourse
- Limit the number of sexual partners
Get Screened at Metro OBGYN
There is no better time than now to get screened for cervical cancer. As it’s Cervical Awareness Month, we highly recommend scheduling your Pap smear, HPV test, or HPV vaccine. Schedule a screening with Metro OBGYN and check on your gynecological health this year.
Gynecological health goes further than just checking for cervical cancer, and there is no better way to keep up with your health than having your annual check-up, which helps catch and treat other issues. Plus, yearly check-ups are great for discussing any other issues you’re experiencing.