How many of us postpone scheduling our “female tests,” because we simply don’t have the time and it’s not on our list of favorite things to do? We need to make them a priority as part of our wellbeing screenings to help prevent or detect cervical cancer.
What does a Pap test do? The cervix is the opening between the vagina and the uterus. A Pap test looks for cells that are not normal and can cause cervical cancer. The other screening test is an HPV test that looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes. Early-stage cervical cancer usually produces no signs or symptoms, so staying vigilant with screenings is important.
When to get your first Pap Test?
The average age for a first Pap test is 21 years. Consult your health care provider about their recommendations for testing and follow-up screenings. The cervical cancer screening includes the Pap Test, and for some women, an HPV test according to ACOG. The screening process is simple and fast.
What are the causes of cervical cancer?
The Mayo Clinic website outlines that cervical cancer begins when our healthy cells in the cervix develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. The cell’s DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do. Our healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate, eventually dying at a set time.
The DNA (mutation) tells the cells to grow and multiply out of control, and they don’t die. The build-up cells then form a mass (tumor). Cancer cells can then invade nearby tissues and can break off from the tumor and spread.
Are there risk factors?
The Mayo Clinic outlines the following risk factors:
- Many sexual partners: the greater your number of sexual partners and the greater your partner’s number- the greater chance of your acquiring HPV.
- Early sexual activity: having sex at an early age increases your risk of HPV.
- Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) also increases your risk of HPV.
- A weakened immune system: you are more likely to develop cervical cancer if your immune system is weakened by another health condition and you have HPV.
- Smoking: smoking is associated with squamous cell cervical cancer.
- Exposure to miscarriage prevention drug: if your mother took a drug in the 1950s (DES) while pregnant, you may have an increased risk of a certain type of cervical cancer.
How to reduce your risk?
- Have your routine Pap tests
- Ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine
- Practice safe sex to prevent sexually transmitted infections
- Don’t smoke
Why is the HPV vaccine important?
According to the CDC.gov website, HPV is estimated to cause nearly 35,000 cases of cancer in men and women every year in the U.S. The HPV vaccination can prevent more than 32,000 of these cancers from ever developing by preventing the infections that cause those cancers.
Talk to your doctor about screening protocols and whether the HPV vaccine is appropriate for you.
The information on this site is intended to raise awareness and understanding of specific health issues. It should not be used for diagnosis or a substitute for health care by your physician.