“No woman should die of cervical cancer.”
That’s how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s web page on cervical cancer awareness begins. And it’s true. With regular screening tests and appropriate follow-up care, cervical cancer is highly preventable.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Nearly 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, according to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition. The American Cancer Society is projecting that about 4,210 women will die from cervical cancer in 2017. If more women received Pap and human papilloma virus (HPV) tests, those numbers might decrease. Why? Early detection and treatment of abnormal cell changes in the cervix can stop cancer before it starts. These cell changes, caused by HPV, can occur years before cancer develops.
The Pap test helps find changes in cervix cells that are not normal. Women getting a Pap test are screened to ensure there are no abnormal or precancerous changes in the cells on the cervix. If the test shows these cell changes, it is usually called cervical dysplasia.
A cervical dysplasia diagnosis does not necessarily mean a woman will get cervical cancer, but it does mean that her health care provider will want to closely monitor her health. Treatment may be needed to prevent further cell changes that could become cancerous over time if left unchecked.
For women age 30 and older, an HPV test may be used along with a Pap test. HPV tests can find the high-risk types of HPV most commonly found in cervical cancer. Having HPV does not mean you’ll get cancer, but it does increase your risk of developing cancer. HPV is common in the U.S., and nearly all men and women get it at some point in their lives.
The test or tests used are not as important as simply being screened on a routine basis. Women age 21 and older should be screened regularly. Your health care provider can assist you in choosing which option is right for you. For more information, you can check out these resources: