According to the American Cancer Society, in 2020 over 13,800 women will be diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer, and roughly 4,290 will die in the United States.

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, and we want you to know that regular cervical screenings play an important part in early diagnosis of cervical cancer. Staying consistent with annual health exams, as well as your doctor’s recommended Pap testing schedule, is a vital step in preventing cervical cancer or catching it early for effective treatment.

What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer develops in the cervix and is the fourth most common type of cancer in women around the world. An estimated 99% of cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), and, although there are over 100 different types, not all types of HPV will lead to cancer. Those infected with HPV-16 or HPV-18, or those with a persistent infection, have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.

Women who receive regular Pap tests have a better chance of identifying any abnormal cell changes caused by HPV before they have a chance to develop into cancer. If cancer does develop, it can quickly spread outside the cervical area or uterus to other areas and organs within the pelvic region.

Risk factors for cervical cancer include:

  • HPV (human papillomavirus) infection
  • Smoking
  • Weakened immune system
  • Long-term use of oral contraceptives
  • Having three or more full-term pregnancies
  • Having several sexual partners

Preventing Cervical Cancer
Thankfully, the HPV vaccination helps protect the body against the high-risk types of HPV that can develop into cancer as well as those types of HPV considered low-risk that cause genital warts. HealthLinc recommends all children – boys and girls – between the ages of 11 and 12 receive the vaccine as it produces a stronger immune response. The vaccine can be successfully administered as late as 25 years old. Over 12 years of FDA monitoring and research have proven that the HPV vaccination is very safe and has little to no side effects.

Getting an annual exam, also known as a well-woman or gynecological exam, will also help prevent the development of cervical cancer. If necessary, the physician will recommend performing a Pap test which identifies precancerous cells that could lead to cancer if not properly treated.

The death rate from cervical cancer has dropped significantly with the increased use of the Pap test. The CDC recommends women begin receiving Pap tests at age 21. If you are considered low risk, the following screening schedule may be followed:

  • Women ages 21 – 29: Receive a Pap screening every three years
  • Women ages 30 – 65: Receive a Pap and HPV screening every five years

Women considered high risk by their physician may need screening more often which will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

What Happens During a Pap Test
A Pap test, or Pap smear, is a simple, in-office test that only takes minutes to perform. Cell samples are gathered with a soft brush and flat scraping device. The test is not painful, although some slight discomfort and light spotting may be experienced. The cell samples are placed into a container or onto a slide and sent to a laboratory for microscopic examination.

Your doctor will discuss with you how and when you will be notified of your results. Should any abnormalities be found, additional testing may be necessary.

Where to Get a Pap Test
If it has been some time since you have received a Pap test, it’s important to contact a healthcare provider with experience in women’s health. At HealthLinc, we offer these vital services and more with same-day appointments available at some of our convenient area locations. Our team is here to help patients easily access comprehensive healthcare services of all kinds, allowing you to easily take charge of your personal health.

HealthLinc strives to positively impact social determinants such as access to health care, education, and physical barriers in our populations, resulting in healthier communities. Taking small steps can help keep you safe and healthy, so talk with your provider today!