Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women worldwide. An estimated 13,000 women in the United States are affected by cervical cancer each year. Cervical Health Awareness Month is an opportunity to remember the importance of cervical health and early detection. Cervical cancer progresses slowly, making it one of the most preventable forms of cancer.
Knowing the risk factors associated with the disease can help determine when to see an OB/GYN for a check up. According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, a woman could be at risk for cervical cancer if she:
- Has a Human Papilloma Virus, commonly referred to as HPV. HPV is a group of viruses found in approximately 99% of cervical cancers. There are currently over 100 different types of HPV. Most are harmless, but high-risk types cause changes in cervical cells that can develop into cancer.
- Smokes or is exposed to second-hand smoke
- Has a weakened immune system or auto-immune disorder, such as HIV
- Missed regular annual Pap tests
- Has many sexual partners
- Uses/used birth control pills for a long period of time
- Has many children
- Was exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth
Regular OB/GYN checkups are essential for early detection and prevention. Women are commonly screened using a Pap test. New prevention guidelines outlined by the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) suggest all females should get regular Pap tests starting at age 21, regardless of when they become sexually active. New research indicates that women with normal test results can safely have Pap tests once every three years.
In addition to the Pap test, HPV vaccinations are recommended as a preventive measure. Vaccinations are available for girls ages 9 – 12, as well as girls and women ages 13 – 26 if they haven’t received the vaccine already. The vaccine is most effective if given before becoming sexually active.
More tips to reduce the risk of cervical cancer from the Mayo Clinic include:
- Use a condom every time to reduce the risk of contracting HPV
- Delay first intercourse
- Limit number of sexual partners
- Avoid smoking
- Get regular check ups
- Get vaccinated for HPV
Call 1-800-MEMORIAL/800-636-6742 for an OB/GYN referral for your annual checkup.