Catch Cervical Cancer Early
Cervical cancer screenings, along with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, can save lives. These tools are a modern medical success story. They help prevent what was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for women.
Cervical cancer screenings include a Pap smear and HPV test. These tests can detect cancer before you even start experiencing symptoms. They’re also unique among cancer screenings as they can prevent cervical cancer before it forms.
What You Should Know About Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells form in the cervix, which is the lower end of the uterus that leads into the vagina. It is linked to HPV, one of the most common sexually transmitted infections.
This cancer develops very slowly over years and often has no symptoms in its early stages. Before cancer starts to develop, abnormal (precancerous) cells can appear in the cervix. That’s what makes screenings for abnormal or cancerous cells such a powerful preventive tool.
Symptoms of cervical cancer in later stages can include:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Pain or bleeding after sex
- Painful urination
- Pelvic or back pain
- Unusual menstrual cycles
- Urinary incontinence
Cervical Cancer can be Preventable
Cervical cancer once had a high rate of death. It was referred to as the “silent killer” since it presented few warning signs or symptoms. Thanks to regular testing and the HPV vaccine, the number of cancer cases and deaths has dropped significantly.
You can reduce your risk for cervical cancer by:
- Getting vaccinated to prevent HPV infection and reduce your risks for HPV-related cancers. The HPV vaccine is recommended for kids between the ages of 9 and 12 and can be given up to age 45. Talk to your primary care provider if you have any questions about this vaccine.
- Having routine cervical cancer screenings. These screenings can detect abnormal cells in the cervix before they have the chance to turn cancerous. They also help catch cancer early when the condition is most treatable.
- Practicing safe sex. This includes using condoms each time you have sex and limiting your number of sexual partners.
- Avoiding smoking and tobacco products.
Get a Cervical Cancer Screening
More than half of American women who get cervical cancer haven’t had or rarely had a Pap smear. Routine cervical cancer screenings help keep you safe and healthy through prevention and early detection
There are two types of cervical cancer screenings available, a Pap smear and an HPV test.
- A Pap smear or Pap test is used to find precancers, or cell changes on the cervix that could become cancerous if not addressed.
- An HPV test is used to detect the HPV virus, which can cause those cell changes.
Your provider will discuss your results with you and let you know if you need additional tests. If so, you’ll get a timeline for when your next test should be.
Start getting screened for cervical cancer at age 21. Depending on your age and other factors, your provider may have different screening recommendations for you.
You can get screened at your regular wellness visit or with a primary care provider.