Get Your Pap Smear in January for Cervical Cancer Awareness Month
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, but you may be wondering why we need a month for cervical cancer at all. Well, according to the CDC, cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States. However, in the past 40 years, the number of cases of cervical cancer and the number of deaths from cervical cancer have decreased significantly. This decline largely is the result of many women getting regular Pap tests, which can find cervical precancer before it turns into cancer. However, cervical cancer can only be caught if every woman takes the risk of developing cervical cancer seriously and gets the screening they need.
What is cervical cancer?
When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer. The cervix connects the vagina (or the birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus. The uterus (or womb) is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant.
All women are at risk for cervical cancer. It occurs most often in women over age 30. Long-lasting infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer. HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sex. At least half of sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives, but few women will get cervical cancer.
Screening tests and the HPV vaccine can help prevent cervical cancer. When cervical cancer is found early, it is highly treatable and associated with long survival and good quality of life.
What can I do to prevent cervical cancer?
The most important thing you can do to help prevent cervical cancer is to have regular screening tests starting at age 21.
There are two screening tests that can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early:
The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.
The HPV test looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that can cause these cell changes.
You can have these tests performed at any of our MCB Family Care Clinics. Our friendly providers and skilled at these screenings and can help you take control of your feminine health by performing these vital screenings and answering any questions you may have.
Another great way to protect yourself from cervical cancer is to get the HPV vaccine. This vaccine protects against the the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers.
The HPV vaccination is recommended for preteens aged 11 to 12 years, but can be given starting at age 9.
The HPV vaccine also is recommended for everyone through age 26 years, if they are not vaccinated already.
HPV vaccination is not recommended for everyone older than age 26 years. However, some adults age 27 through 45 years who are not already vaccinated may decide to get the HPV vaccine after speaking with their provider about their risk for new HPV infections and the possible benefits of vaccination. HPV vaccination in this age range provides less benefit, as more people have already been exposed to HPV at this point in their lives.
If vaccination is started before age 15, a two-dose schedule is recommended, with the doses given 6 to 12 months apart. For people who start the series after their 15th birthday, the vaccine is given in a series of three shots.
HPV vaccination prevents new HPV infections, but does not treat existing infections or diseases. This is why the HPV vaccine works best when given before any exposure to HPV at a young age. Regardless if you have been vaccinated against HPV or not, you should get screened for cervical cancer regularly.
Why should I get screened for cervical cancer?
The main reason you need to get screened regularly is because cervical cancer can be a silent killer. Early on, cervical cancer may not cause signs and symptoms at all. Advanced cervical cancer may cause bleeding or discharge from the vagina that is not normal for you, such as bleeding after sex. If you have any of these signs, see your physician. These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know is to see your provider to test. Again, it’s important to stress that regular screenings will help catch cervical cancer before it becomes life threatening.
So in honor of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, why not make your appointment with any of our MCB Family Care Clinics to get screened? We are always accepting new patients at all of our locations and would love for you to become one of them! To schedule your appointment with our friendly receptionist at our Hurtsboro, Eufaula, or Louisville clinic, please call 334-688-7410. We look forward to being here for you.