January has been designated as Cervical Health Awareness Month by the National Cervical Cancer Coalition and the American Social Health Association. This initiative helps raise awareness and encourages women to receive regular screenings for cervical cancer and human papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV is a major cause of cervical cancer which is one of the most common cancers found in women. However early detection can lessen the severity of both diseases and prevent the development of abnormal or cancerous cells.
It is recommended that women receive regular screenings to check the health of their cervixes. The frequency of screenings varies by age and the following guideline is recommended by The American Cancer Society:
- All women should begin cervical cancer testing (screening) at age 21. Women aged 21 to 29, should have a Pap test every 3 years. HPV testing should not be used for screening in this age group (it may be used as a part of follow-up for an abnormal Pap test).
- Beginning at age 30, the preferred way to screen is with a Pap test combined with an HPV test every 5 years. This is called co-testing and should continue until age 65.
- Another reasonable option for women 30 to 65 is to get tested every 3 years with just the Pap test.
- Women who are at high risk of cervical cancer because of a suppressed immune system (for example from HIV infection, organ transplant, or long-term steroid use) or because they were exposed to DES in utero may need to be screened more often. They should follow the recommendations of their health care team.
- Women over 65 years of age who have had regular screening in the previous 10 years should stop cervical cancer screening as long as they haven’t had any serious pre-cancers.
- Women who have had a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) should stop screening (such as Pap tests and HPV tests), unless the hysterectomy was done as a treatment for cervical pre-cancer (or cancer). Women who have had a hysterectomy without removal of the cervix (called a supra-cervical hysterectomy) should continue cervical cancer screening according to the guidelines above.
- Women of any age should NOT be screened every year by any screening method.
- Women who have been vaccinated against HPV should still follow these guidelines
In addition to receiving screenings, it is strongly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that women and men receive HPV vaccinations to stop the spread of the virus.
Please speak with your doctor as soon as possible about steps you can take to maintain your cervical health and remember, prevention is better than cure.
All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.