January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. What cervical cancer screenings should you get to reduce your risk? Here are insights.
According to the American Cancer Society, in the U.S. this year:
- About 13,240 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed.
- About 4,170 women will die from cervical cancer.
However, it’s important to note that medical advances have allowed for progress in the diagnosis and treatment of cervical cancer. While it used to be one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women, the incidence of death has significantly declined. What changed? The rise of screening tests, including the Pap smear and the HPV test.
In fact, most medical findings among American women are for cervical pre-cancer: cell changes on the cervix that may become cancer if not treated, which is when simple, typically outpatient procedures can reduce the risk of long-term health impacts. These procedures can prevent pre-cancerous cells from becoming cancer cells.
Cervical Cancer Screenings to Reduce Risk
The CDC notes that two common tests can detect early stages of cervical cancer (or pre-cancer) and improve health outcomes:
- The Pap test (or Pap smear). This screening looks for precancers. Women should begin getting Pap smears when they’re 21.
- The human papillomavirus (HPV) test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.
- According to the CDC: “The most important thing you can do to help prevent cervical cancer is to have regular screening tests starting at age 21.”
Cervical Cancer Screening Schedule
The American Cancer Society offers the following guidelines for screenings:
- All women should begin cervical cancer screening at 21. Women between 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every three years.
- Beginning at 30, the preferred way to screen is with a Pap test combined with an HPV test every five years. This is called co-testing and should continue until age 65.
- Women over 65 who have had regular screenings in the previous 10 years should stop cervical cancer screening as long as they haven’t had any serious pre-cancers found in the last 20 years.
How to Get Screened
Request an appointment with your primary care physician or OB/GYN to schedule a screening.