For those who are not already aware, the month of January is Cervical Cancer Screening Month. This is the time to alert all women to get themselves tested for cervical cancer and HPV, because as the second leading cancer in women worldwide it important that this issue is brought to the forefront. Yet despite its seriousness, there are in fact ways to prevent this disease from developing. The first way is to find and treat pre-cancers before they have the chance to develop into true cancers and the second way is to prevent the pre-cancers from happening in the first place.
The most effective way of preventing cervical cancer and locating pre-cancers is by having regular screenings. The most common way of screening is through the Pap test, also known as a Pap smear. Now many women may be wondering what they should be doing to take the necessary precautions to prevent this disease. Fortunately the American Cancer Society has developed a set of guidelines to help with early detection.
- All women should begin cervical cancer testing three years after they have started having sexual intercourse. Women who partake in a conventional test should be tested annually, while women who use a liquid based Pap test should be tested every two years.
- Starting at age 30, women who have had three or more normal test results in a row can be tested less often. Although some women, such as women with a weakened immune system, women who were exposed to DES before birth, and women with a history of treatment for pre cancer should continue to have annual screenings.
- Women over thirty with healthy immune systems and no abnormal screening results can be tested only every three years.
- Women 70 years of age or older who have had three or more normal test results in a row and have not have had any abnormal test results in the past ten years can chose to stop having cervical cancer screenings. Women with a history of cervical cancer, HIV infection, weak immune system, or were exposed to DES before birth should continue with testing as long as they are healthy enough.
- Women who have had a hysterectomy may also chose to stop having cervical cancer screening as long as that hysterectomy wasn’t as a result of a cervical cancer treatment. If it was, then they should continue with testing. Women who have had a hysterectomy without the removal of the cervix must still continue with regular testing.
Though having the Pap test done is a great step towards the prevention of cervical cancer, it is not the only one. The most important risk factor for developing cervical cancer is infection with the human papilloma virus (a.k.a. HPV). So it is vital that in addition with getting the Pap smear all women should also talk to their doctors about being tested for HPV.