What Every Woman Should Know About Preventing Cervical Cancer

Jan 11, 2024
What Every Woman Should Know About Preventing Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer can be deadly, but it’s also more than 90% preventable. January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and the perfect opportunity to learn how to protect your health and life with routine Pap and HPV screenings.

Every year, more than 600,000 women worldwide — including more than 14,000 in the United States — are diagnosed with cancer of the cervix, which is the opening to the uterus.

As dire as that sounds, this number is 50% lower than in the mid-1970s, thanks to the American Medical Association recommending routine Pap tests for women. Since then, screening has helped doctors detect cervical changes before they become cancerous.

Undetected and untreated cervical cancer is deadly. More than 4,000 women in the US die from this preventable disease each year. 

Although it’s rare for women in their 20s or 30s to develop cervical cancer (the average age of diagnosis is 50), preventing this slow-growing disease now protects your health and life in the future. 

Board-certified OB/GYN Dr. Diana Heard and Nicola Maurer, NP of Glendale Obstetrics and Gynecology, PC, in Glendale, Arizona, encourage you to take control of your reproductive and overall health by preventing cervical cancer. Here’s how.

Get regular Pap smears and HPV tests

Pap smears and HPV tests are part of your well-woman exam. While your well-woman visit, which also includes a pelvic exam, should be annual, how often you should have cervical cancer screening depends on your age and health history. General guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists are:

  • Women aged 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every three years. HPV testing alone can be considered for women 25 to 29, but Pap tests are preferred.
  • Women aged 30 to 65 can have both a Pap test and an HPV test every five years. They can have a Pap test alone every three years. Or they can have HPV testing alone every five years.
  • Women aged 65 can stop having cervical cancer screenings if they’ve never had abnormal cervical cells or cervical cancer and they’ve had two or three negative screening tests in a row, depending on the type of test.

Practice safer sex

In more than 95% of cases, cervical cancer is the result of a sexually transmitted virus called the human papillomavirus (HPV). Another risk factor for developing cervical cancer is infection with the sexually transmitted genital herpes virus (HSV2). 

Unfortunately, both HPV and HSV2 can be transmitted through intimate touch alone, even if you never have intercourse. Nevertheless, practicing safe sex may lower your risk of contracting HPV or HSV2 and developing cervical cancer. Here’s how:

  • Delay sex until you’re in your late teens or older
  • Always use condoms
  • Use dental dams for oral sex
  • Limit the number of your sexual partners
  • Avoid sex with bisexual or gay men
  • Avoid intercourse with people who have multiple partners
  • Avoid intercourse with anyone who has genital warts or lesions

Safeguarding your health and boosting your immune system also reduces your risk. Quit smoking. Take extra precautions if you have an autoimmune disease or other condition that makes you susceptible to infections.

Get an HPV vaccine

A single dose of the HPV vaccine offers effective protection for those who would benefit from it. Formerly, 2-3 doses were necessary.

The HPV vaccine prevents infection with HPV serotypes 16 and 18. These types of HPV are responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases. The dosing schedule is based on age. Although the primary target for HPV vaccines is young girls so they can build immunity, adults benefit too:

Boys should also get an HPV vaccine before age 15 to protect them from infection that can lead to cancers in their throat, penis, or anus. Some women up to age 45 could also benefit.

Preventing cervical cancer is a lot safer, more effective, and easier than trying to treat it. 

Schedule your Pap test, HPV test, or HPV vaccine today. Call 602-298-8977 or book an appointment online with Glendale Obstetrics and Gynecology, PC, today.