A message from Dr. Jay Littlefield, Holy Rosary Healthcare OB-GYN Provider
January is Cervical Health Awareness month. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women in the U.S. However, preventive screening and vaccination have contributed to a significant decrease over the last 40 years in both the number of cases of cervical cancer and the number of deaths from cervical cancer. In 2017, the latest year for which incidence data are available, in the U.S, for every 100,000 women, eight new cervical cancer cases were reported and two women died of this cancer.
In general, the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is thought to be responsible for more than 90% of cervical cancers. According to the CDC, 92% of cervical cancers could be prevented if HPV vaccine recommendations were followed. Vaccination is only part of the prevention strategy though. Even if you have been vaccinated against HPV, routine screening is still needed.
When it comes to screening, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), recommends getting regular pap tests (also known as a pap smear). A pap test is a simple test done by your healthcare provider that looks for abnormal cells, and can help find cervical pre-cancer before it turns into cancer. Depending on your age or risk factors, the pap test can be done at the same time as an HPV test which looks for infection with the HPV types that are linked to cervical cancer. ACOG recommends the following screening guidelines:
- If you are younger than 21 years, unless your provider identifies risk factors, you do not need screening
- If you are aged 21–29 years, you should have a Pap test every 3 years
- If you are aged 30–65 years, you can choose one of three options:
- Have a Pap test and an HPV test (co-testing) every 5 years, (*Many providers will typically recommend this option)
- Have a Pap test alone every 3 years, or
- Have an HPV test alone every 5 years
- If you are 65 years or older, you do not need screening if you have no history of cervical changes and either three negative Pap test results in a row or two negative co-test results in a row within the past 10 years, with the most recent test performed within the past 5 years
Remember, you still need to have screening, even if you have been vaccinated against HPV, and you still need to have screening if you have had a hysterectomy and your cervix was not removed. Regardless of the screening frequency that is done, you should still see your healthcare provider or OB-GYN every year for an annual examination. Schedule an appointment today to talk with us about your risk factors for cervical cancer and how the HPV vaccine and routine screening can benefit you.
Click here to schedule an appointment with Dr. Littlefield.