By: Christopher Petr, M.D.
Cervical cancer screenings are used to determine if a woman has cell changes that could progress to cancer. According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), “Healthy cells grow, divide, and are replaced as needed. Cancer of the cervix occurs when these cells change.” It can take many years for cancer of the cervix to develop. Early cell changes, also known as dysplasia, occur prior to the development of cancer. The most common cause of cervical cancer is HPV (Human Papillomavirus) infection. HPV can be shared during sexual intercourse, and is often not associated with any symptoms. HPV is very common, and most infections resolve on their own.
Many women are unaware that a cervical cancer screening is recommended starting as early as 21 years of age, using a test called a Pap smear. Current ACOG recommendations for cervical cancer screening include completing a pap smear every three years if between the ages of 21 through 29. For women over the age of 30, pap smears every 3 to 5 years with co-testing for HPV is recommended. If there is abnormal results obtained, additional testing with your doctor is required. An abnormal result does not mean cancer. Yearly gynecological examinations are also recommended, regardless of whether or not a pap smear is due.
Measures can be taken to prevent cervical cancer. It is important to live a healthy lifestyle. This includes regular exercise, healthy diet and a daily multivitamin. It has also been proven that monogamous relationships reduce the risk for sexually transmitted diseases, including HPV. As the most common cause of cervical cancer is HPV, the HPV vaccine is recommended. The HPV vaccine can be given to males or females, as early as age 9. The HPV vaccine consists of three doses, given in a six month time frame.
To schedule your yearly gynecological exam or begin your HPV vaccination series, call ProCare Women’s Clinic at 432-640-2491.