According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. It’s a harmful disease – but also one that can be caught early, and even prevented in some cases, by taking certain steps. Here’s what you need to know.
Cervical cancer affects the cervix – the lower, narrow end of the uterus. At its earliest stages, it may not cause any noticeable symptoms. As the disease advances, it can cause abnormal bleeding or discharge from the vagina.
People at Risk
All women, and especially those over 30, are at risk for cervical cancer. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of the disease. HPV is passed from one person to another during sex, and most sexually active people have the virus at some point in their lives. However, only some women will get cervical cancer from it.
Steps All Women Should Take
Two tests can help prevent cervical cancer or find it in its early stages, when it’s highly curable:
- A Pap test – or Pap smear – collects cells from your cervix to check for cancer or signs that cancer might develop in the future.
- An HPV test looks for the virus, HPV. It doesn’t tell you if you have cancer, but it can tell you if you have certain forms of the virus that put you at higher risk for cancer, now or in the future.
What test to get depends on your age and other factors. Ask your doctor what screening plan is best for you – they’ll recommend you get a Pap test, HPV test or both tests together. For most women, the CDC recommends:
- If you’re age 21 to 29, you should get a Pap test regularly, or as directed by your doctor. If your test is normal, your doctor might say it’s OK to wait three years until your next one.
- Women age 30 to 65 can usually choose to have a Pap test, an HPV test or both together – but make sure to get your doctor’s advice. If your results are normal, your doctor might say it’s OK to wait up to five years for your next test.
Even if you’re past childbearing age or not having sex anymore, you need to keep getting these tests regularly.
Get the HPV Vaccine
You – and your children – can also get the HPV vaccine, which protects against types of the virus that most often cause cervical and other cancers. The CDC recommends both girls and boys get the vaccine when they’re 11 – 12 years old, but it can be given until age 26 and as early as age 9. Ask your doctor for more information. Also, please note that even if you’re vaccinated, you’ll still need to get your regular Pap and/or HPV tests.
So there you have it – give your doctor a call today and stay on track with your vaccination and regularly testing. Knowledge is power, and you now have what you need to fight against HPV and cervical cancer.
For information on coverage and costs (if applicable) for specific tests, vaccines and screenings, please see your health plan documents or call the number on the back of your health plan ID card. We’re always glad to answer any questions you may have.
Interested in learning more? Check out these links:
- Carle Health provides additional information about cervical cancer, and Memorial Health discusses how Pap smears save lives.
- Listen to Riverside Healthcare’s podcast and watch Springfield Clinic’s short video about HPV and the HPV vaccine.
- Discover how to prevent cervical cancer in this blog piece from Reid Health and this article from Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System.
- Read this inspiring story about turning loss into legacy from our partners at OSF HealthCare.