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NEWS | Jan. 26, 2022

Regular screening tests key to prevention of cervical cancer

By Mary Ann Crispin, RN Kenner Army Health Clinic

According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, more than 14,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and more than 4,000 of them die. January is recognized annually as Cervical Cancer Awareness month, which is a great time to talk about how human papillomavirus vaccines can help prevent cancer.

This disease is the fourth most common type of cancer for women worldwide. However, because it develops over time, it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer.

The U.S. Congress has designated January as Cervical Cancer Awareness month to raise awareness of the prevalence of the disease and steps for prevention. Kenner Army Health Clinic is a proud supporter of the campaign. Kenner's care providers can help beneficiaries understand who is most susceptible and what steps to take for early detection.

Being screened for cervical cancer means getting tested before experiencing actual symptoms. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, screening options suggest your first pap test at age 21.

Cervical cancer occurs in the cervix, the low, narrow part of the uterus that connects it to the vagina. Abnormal cells in the cervix can turn into cancer if they are not found and treated.

HPV is a common infection spread through sex. It is also a contributor to genital warts. Certain types of HPV cause almost all cases of cervical cancer.

How often should women get screened (tested)?

The answer to that question depends on how old individuals are and which screening tests they're getting. Women between the ages of 21-29 should get screened with a Pap test every three years. Those between the ages of 30-65 have the following options:

  • Get screened every three years with a Pap test only
  • Get screened every five years with an HPV test only
  • Get screened every five years with both a Pap test and an HPV test together

·Women age 66 or older should ask their doctor if they need to continue screening for cervical cancer.

The HPV vaccine prevents new HPV infections but does not treat existing conditions or diseases. Some women also may need to get screened more often. Talk with your doctor about which option is right for you.

You should get screened for cervical regularly, even if you received an HPV vaccine. The CDC website is a good resource at https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/resources/features/cervicalcancer/index.htm.
There is more information about your screening options and HPV vaccine.

The National Cancer Institute has information on the steps to take if you have an abnormal screening result. It's important to note that an abnormal test does not necessarily mean the individual has cervical cancer. Most have early cell changes that can be monitored (since they often go away on their own) or treated early (to prevent problems later). Just continue with follow-up visits and tests or whatever treatment the health care provider prescribes. The HPV vaccine test looks for the virus that can cause the cells to change. Be informed and talk honestly with your provider for the best recommendation for your health.

Individuals can read more about this subject at www.cancer.gov/types/cervical/understanding-cervical-changes