The Only Sure Way to Know if You Have Cervical Cancer
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month
The only sure way to find out if you have cervical cancer is to get a screening test. As women age, the recommendations for cervical cancer screenings change, and they’ve changed over the last decade.
“Screening for cervical cancer is very important, and that’s what Pap smears have been devised to detect,” says Millennium Physician Group Gynecologist John Fitzgerald Oliva, M.D., F.A.C.O.G. “It’s literally the best screening test we have.”
Two screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer by finding it early:
- The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if not treated appropriately.
- The HPV test looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that can cause these cell changes.
According to the most recent recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), all women should start getting Pap tests starting at age 21. If your Pap test result is normal, your doctor may tell you that you can wait three years until your next Pap test.
Women 30 to 65 years old should talk to their doctor about their testing options. Based on history, your doctor may suggest a Pap test only or a combination of Pap and HPV testing. Again, if your result is normal, he may tell you you can wait three or even five years until your next Pap test. (ACOG recommends stopping Pap smears at 65 unless you have a history of cervical cancer or abnormal pap smears.)
“The prior to 65 age group is the one where I see women not getting their regular cervical cancer screenings,” admits Dr. Oliva. “Whether it’s retirement or insurance changes, these are the women who don’t get the normal screening they should.” In fact, a recent study found that the older women get, the more likely it is that they have never been tested or haven’t been tested in the previous 5 years.
“When cervical cancer is found early, it’s highly treatable and associated with long survival and good quality of life,” says Dr. Oliva. “My most important advice for women is to just do it. Make sure to ask your doctor about your specific recommendations and if you’re up to date.”
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