It used to be the leading cause of cancer in women. Now, cervical cancer is almost completely preventable. In the past few decades, increasing awareness about cervical cancer has drastically turned the cancer story around for women across the United States, but there is still work to be done.
Opening up a dialogue about cancer prevention is one of the most important steps we can take to ensure our physical health. Although it can be a difficult topic to discuss, awareness plays a huge factor in preventing all types of cancer, and cervical cancer is no different.
At Women’s Health Specialists, we know that the topic of cancer can be more than a little bit scary. The good news is that by following these tips below, we can work to prevent cervical cancer together and encourage other women to follow suit.
#1. Educate Yourself and Others
Awareness is one of the best ways to prevent any form of cancer, including cervical cancer. It can sometimes be scary to approach the topic, but it will ultimately keep you safe in the long run.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer affects the cells at the opening of the cervix or the lower part of the uterus. Each of these cells is coded with information that tells them when to grow and when to stop, and each signal is necessary for their proper functioning. However, proteins in the Human papillomavirus (HPV) virus can interfere with the function of these cervical cells, causing them to continue growing without stopping. This rapid growth is what causes cervical cancer.
According to the National Foundation for Cancer Awareness (NFCR), 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. Of those, approximately 4,000 women die from cervical cancer. 99% of these cases are caused by HPV.
What are the symptoms?
There are several symptoms of cervical cancer to watch out for. Although these symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have cervical cancer, you should report them to one of our doctors if you notice you’re experiencing one of them.
- Persistent pain in the pelvic region or back
- Increase in vaginal discharge
- Heavier or longer menstruation cycles
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain when urinating
- Bleeding after menopause
- Light bleeding between periods
#2. Take the HPV Vaccine
HPV is a highly common sexually transmitted disease that affects nearly every person in the United States. Although there is no cure for HPV, vaccination can prevent you from ever getting it in the first place.
The HPV vaccine is available to anyone as early as age nine to age 26. We provide the vaccine in two doses for those between the ages of nine and 15. If you’re over the age of 15, you’ll receive three doses. The earlier you or your child gets the vaccine, the better protection it provides against cancer.
#3. Cut Out Controllable Risk Factors
Another good way to prevent cervical cancer is to eliminate as many risk factors as you can reasonably control.
Smoking is a risk factor for many types of cancer, including cervical cancer. You can limit your risk of developing cervical cancer by quitting or avoiding smoking altogether.
Birth control pills increase your risk for cervical cancer. Oral contraceptives can double your risk of developing cervical cancer after five years of use. Be sure to talk with one of our doctors at Women’s Health Specialists about your birth control options.
Limiting the possibility of contracting HPV significantly reduces your chance of contracting cervical cancer. When engaging in sexual intercourse, wear a condom to prevent the spread of HPV. You may want to limit the number of sexual partners you have or avoid partners who have had many sexual partners. Make sure to get the HPV vaccine as early as possible.
#4. Don’t Miss Your Regular Screenings
To prevent cervical cancer, you’ll need to get tested for HPV and undergo a PAP smear regularly. Consistent testing for cervical cancer allows your Women’s Health Specialists team to evaluate your risk for cancer, detect precancerous cells, or catch cervical cancer early for the best treatment outcome.
All women and individuals with cervixes should receive regular PAP smears every three years, beginning at age 21. A PAP smear allows your doctor to sample the cells in the lining of your cervix to test for abnormalities. Our doctors can track your risk factors and ensure your body is happy and healthy by testing you every three years.
You should also begin testing for HPV at age 25 and continue testing every five years until age 65. An HPV test is very similar to a PAP smear, and in some cases, your doctor can complete both exams at one time.
When to Stop Screening
Most women should follow the guidelines above exactly as stated. However, once you reach the age of 65, you do not need to continue screening — that is, unless you’ve had an abnormal screening in the past 25 years. If that is the case, you should continue screening for 25 years after your last abnormal test.
You no longer need regular cervical screening if you’ve had a total hysterectomy. However, if you’ve had a partial hysterectomy, you should continue screening regularly.
It is a misconception that women should stop screening after having children — this is not the case. You should continue screening even after having children by following the guidelines above.
Choose Women’s Health Specialists
Our team at Women’s Health Specialists is committed to providing superior obstetrical, gynecological, and urogynecological care for all stages of a woman’s life. Taking a proactive approach to your healthcare needs is a top priority for our physicians and our entire team.