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Regular screenings may help prevent cervical cancer

Jessica Gerbes, Nursing Student Intern, and Molly Vetter-Smith, MPH, MEd, RD, State Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension

 

Take charge of your health by getting regular screenings to prevent and find cervical cancer. The screening tool for cervical cancer is the Pap test or smear. In a Pap test, cells from the cervix are collected and tested for signs of cancer or any abnormal cell changes that may occur before cancer develops.

 

The most recent cervical cancer screening guidelines were published by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in November 2009. They are:

 

  • Cervical cancer screening via a Pap smear should begin at age 21 (regardless of sexual history). Screening before age 21 should be avoided because women less than 21 years old are at very low risk of cervical cancer.
  • Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should get a Pap smear every two years. Recent research shows that getting a Pap smear every year has little benefit compared to every other year.
  • Women 30 and older who have had three normal Pap tests in a row and do not have risk factors for cervical cancer can be screened every three years instead of every two years.
  • Women ages 65 to 70 who have had at least three normal Pap tests and no abnormal Pap tests in a 10-year period of time may stop cervical cancer screening after talking to their doctor.

 

These are general guidelines and may not be right for everyone. It is important to talk to your doctor about when to get screened, especially if you are at a higher risk for cervical cancer. Risk factors for getting cervical cancer include:

 

  • Having the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • Family history of cervical cancer
  • Use of birth control pills for more than five years
  • Smoking
  • Giving birth to five or more children
  • Having many sexual partners or having sex with a man who has had many sexual partners
  • Chlamydia infection now or in the past
  • Having HIV or AIDS

 

Recent studies have shown that the HPV infection is a main cause of cervical cancer. Most HPV infections go away on their own and do not lead to cervical cancer, but HPV puts you at a higher risk for developing cervical cancer. Gardasil, the HPV vaccine, is strongly recommended for women ages 9 to 26 because it prevents the infection.

 

For more information about cervical cancer or HPV, call the Cancer Information Service (CIS), a program of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. or visit the NCI website at http://www.cancer.gov/. Information is also provided on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website at http://cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/.

 

This article was adapted from information provided by the National Cancer Institute’s Heartland Cancer Information Service.

 


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Last Updated 10/01/2010