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Tips for lowering the risk of, and detecting, cervical cancer

FONDA — With January’s Cervical Health Awareness Month just past, now is a good time to learn what can be done to detect and prevent cervical cancer.

Regular health visits and followup care can help women avoid cervical cancer. There usually aren’t any symptoms of cervical cancer in its earliest, most treatable stage.

Anyone can lower their risk for cervical cancer by getting screened regularly, starting at age 21. There are two types of tests that help prevent cervical cancer or find it early.

1. The pap test looks for precancers, which are cells changed on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.

2. The human papillomavirus (HPV) test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.

Females should get their first pap test at age 21. If their test result is normal, they can wait three years for their next test.

If they are 30 years old or older, they have three options:

1. They can continue getting a pap test only. If their test result is normal, they can wait three years for their next test.

2. They can get an HPV test only. If their test result is normal, they can wait five years for their next test.

3. They can get both an HPV and pap test together. If their test results are normal, they can wait five years for their next tests.

Cervical cancer is almost always caused by persistent infection with the human papillomavirus, a common virus that can be spread from one person to another during intimate skin to skin contact. The HPV vaccine www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/vaccine.html protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical cancers. HPV can also cause other kinds of cancer in both men and women. The HPV vaccine is recommended for preteens aged 11 to 12 however can be administered between ages 9 through 26. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective at preventing 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. Females should get screened for cervical cancer regularly, even if they received an HPV vaccine.

In addition to HPV infection, there are other factors that increase a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer including:

∫ Not having regular pap tests.

∫ Not following up with their health care provider if they had a pap test result that is not normal.

∫ Having HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, or another condition that makes it hard for their body to fight off health problems

∫ Smoking

It is important for women who have not had a pap test within the past five years to get screened, because six out of 10 cervical cancers occur in women who have never received a pap test or have not had one in the past five years. It also is important to continue getting a pap test even if one thinks they are too old to have a child, or are not sexually active.

There are many ways women can live a healthy lifestyle and help improve outcomes related to cancer. These include not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke, making healthy food choices, getting regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting recommended cancer screenings. St. Mary’s Health Care in Amsterdam offers free breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer screening and diagnostic services to eligible clients.

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