Cervical Cancer: What You Should Know
The Pap Test has become the most widely used screening method in the world. However, there is room to do better. In 2018 alone, more than 13,000 women in the U.S. are expected to be diagnosed with cervical cancer. The good news is that it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer2.
Cervical cancer begins in the cells that line the cervix in the lower part of the uterus. The cervix connects the body of the uterus (where a fetus grows) to the birth canal. The cervix contains two different parts covered with two different types of cells, and the intersection where they meet is called the transformation zone. This is where most cervical cancer begins. Normal cells in the cervix first develop changes over time and later turn into cancer. These changes can be detected before the cells turn into cancer, which can be detected by the Pap Test and treated to prevent cancer from forming. Not all pre-cancers will develop into cancer, and treating pre-cancers can prevent almost all cancers from developing.
What is the Pap Smear Test? It requires a doctor to take a small number of cells in and around the cervix. This allows a doctor to find changes in the cervix before they become cancer. It can also find cancer early when it’s easier for a doctor to treat. This test can be done by your primary care physician or gynecologist.
Various strains of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), play a role in causing most cervical cancer but most women with the virus never develop cancer. This means other factors such as the woman’s environment and her lifestyle choices also determine whether she will develop cervical cancer or not. Risk factors for cervical cancer include early sexual activity, other sexually transmitted infections or diseases, multiple sexual partners, smoking, and a weakened immune system3.
Recommendations to reduce your risk of getting cervical cancer are:
- Have a regular Pap Smear Test by your gynecologist
- Pap test should be done every 3 years for most women 21-65 years old
- Get vaccinated against HPV for girls and women ages 9 to 26 years old
- Practice safe sex
- Don’t smoke
It’s important to talk to your doctor about cervical cancer screenings to make sure that you are up to date. It will also help you and your doctor come up with a cancer screening plan that is right for you. By working with your healthcare team, you can effectively prevent or treat cervical cancer.