When it comes to preventative health, the history of cervical cancer in the United States shows us how important regular screening tests can be.
Nearly 40 years ago, cervical cancer was reportedly the leading cause of cancer death for American women. Today, that rate has been cut by more than 50%. What prompted this astounding success was increased use of a simple yet powerful diagnostic test — the Pap smear. This procedure, performed by a gynecologist, is designed to find changes in the cervix before cancer develops — detecting cancer in its early, curable stage.
Deaths from cervical cancer in the United States continue to decline largely because of the widespread use of the Pap test, so it’s up to today’s women to continue this success story by getting screened regularly starting at age 21, and through the age of 65.
What causes cervical cancer?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is found in about 99% of cervical cancers. HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the United States. Researchers estimate that 80% of women have been infected with some type of HPV by age 50. However, the majority of women infected with HPV do not develop cervical cancer.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Women with early cervical cancers and precancers (cell changes on the cervix that can become cervical cancer) usually have no symptoms, which is why screenings are so important.
Symptoms often do not begin until a precancer becomes a true invasive cancer and grows into nearby tissue. According to the American Cancer Society, the most common symptoms are:
• Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after vaginal intercourse, bleeding after menopause, bleeding and spotting between periods, and having longer or heavier menstrual periods than usual (bleeding after douching, or after a pelvic exam is a common symptom of cervical cancer, but not pre-cancer)
• Unusual discharge from the vagina, which may contain some blood and may occur between periods or after menopause
• Pain during vaginal intercourse
• Increased urinary frequency
• Pain during urination
These signs and symptoms can also be caused by conditions other than cervical cancer. If you have any of these symptoms or concerns, make an appointment with your physician immediately.
How Can I Prevent Cervical Cancer?
There are two tests that can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early:
• The Pap test (or Pap smear), which looks for precancers
• The HPV test, which looks for the virus that can cause precancers
The Pap test is recommended for women between ages 21 and 65, and can be done in a doctor’s office or clinic. For complete Pap test screening guidelines from the American Cancer Society, click here.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for preteen boys and girls at age 11 or 12. Young women can get HPV vaccine through age 26, and young men can get vaccinated through age 21. For more information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the HPV vaccine, click here
If you're concerned about cervical cancer, HPV or other health issues, don’t hesitate to call your Primary Care Physician (PCP). Need a PCP? Griffin Faculty Physicians
offers expert primary care with offices in Naugatuck, Shelton, Derby, Seymour, Oxford, Southbury, Southford, and, beginning February 1, Ansonia. Give us a call at 203-924-5540 to book an appointment and discuss your ovarian cancer risk factors.