Feel like you can skip a Pap test now and then? What you don’t know about cervical cancer can be damaging to your ability to have children as well as deadly to your health.
Cervical cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in women in their 20s and 30s . Each year 11,000 new cervical cancer cases are diagnosed and 4,000 American women die from what’s considered to be the first preventable cancer.
These 11,000 women undergo treatments that put them at later risk for preterm birth during pregnancy, and may prevent them from ever carrying a baby if the cancer is advanced enough and it’s necessary to remove the uterus to treat it.
Virtually all cervical cancer begins as a genital HPV infection. HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact during sex and is extremely common. There are many types of HPV, some cause genital warts and others infect the cervix. Only the high-risk types can cause cellular changes that can turn into cancer.
Since 2006, we’ve been able to prevent the types of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancers via vaccination. Vaccination is recommended for girls and women ages 11 to 26; it’s most effective when you get vaccinated before you’re sexually active.
HPV infections come and go without any symptoms. But when HPV remains it can create changes in your cells that a Pap test may show are pre-cancerous. If such cells are found, your health care provider can then remove the abnormal cells before cancer can develop.
If you don’t regularly get a Pap test, you’re putting yourself at risk for cervical cancer. Your best opportunity for preventing cervical cancer from ever developing is to get the HPV vaccine before you’re sexually active, and then begin regular Pap testing at age 21 as advised by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
At age 30, you now can request an HPV test in addition to your Pap. If both are normal and you’ve had 3 previously normal Paps, ACOG recommends you can wait 3 years before you repeat the HPV and Pap tests unless you have risk factors for cervical cancer such as HIV.
Don’t take a chance with your future ability to carry a baby to term. And don’t take a chance with your life. Get regular Pap and HPV tests as appropriate. Tell your girlfriends and female relatives to do the same, and together let’s end cervical cancer.