Make Cervical Cancer Screening One of Your Health Priorities
As you are contemplating your goals for 2018, consider reevaluating your health and ensuring that you have your happiest and healthiest year yet. Routine screening tests with your healthcare provider are an important part of meeting that goal, and for women of all ages, screening for cervical cancer is one to keep on your radar.
A lot has changed in the world of cervical cancer screening. Thanks to regular pap smear screening, the incidence of cervical cancer in the U.S. has decreased more than 50% over the past 30 years, with most cases of cervical cancer occurring in women who were never or inadequately screened.
Most women are familiar with having a gynecological yearly exam, which includes a Pap smear, pelvic exam and breast exam. It is important to note that the pelvic exam and Pap smear are not the same thing. The Pap smear is a part of the pelvic exam, but also includes visualization of the vulva, vagina and cervix. Assessing the size and shape the cervix, uterus and ovaries are also a vital part of the exam.
Yearly exams are still important; however, Pap smears are no longer needed every year, as long as you have a history of negative testing.
Cervical cancer screening guidelines are as follows:
- Starts at 21 regardless of age at first sexual encounter.
- Ages 21-29 need screening every 3 years and testing for HPV is typically not indicated.
- Ages 30-65 need screening every 5 years, with HPV testing.
- After 65 a woman who has no history of abnormal pap smears may no longer need them.
- If a woman has had a hysterectomy, she may no longer need pap smears.
Of course, the above guidelines are for those who have previously had negative testing. This will change if your pap smear comes back abnormal.
As you may have noticed, HPV testing is an important addition to our cervical cancer screening. HPV (human papillomavirus) is the virus that can cause cervical cancer. It is sexually transmitted and can be temporary or persistent. Those with persistent HPV are at an increased risk of cervical dysplasia (“precancer”) or cancer. Fortunately, we have FDA approved vaccines that have been shown to be effective at preventing some HPV infection. These vaccines may significantly reduce a patient’s risk of cervical cancer. This vaccination is recommended for all boys and girls ages 9 to 26 and should be given before they reach an age at which they may be exposed to HPV.
All patients are unique and these are only recommendations. It is important that at your yearly exam, your previous Pap smear results are discussed with your provider, as well as how often you should be screened.
By adding regular screens to your new year, you are more likely to improve your health through 2018.
Dr. Colleen Thibaut practices at Ashley Women’s Center in Gastonia and Belmont.