January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month – the perfect opportunity to remind women of the importance of including cervical cancer screenings in their wellness care.
Cervical cancer develops in the cells of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 14,480 new cervical cancer cases were diagnosed in the United States in 2021 with more than 4,000 deaths.
Preventative care is especially important with cervical cancer because there are no warning signs or symptoms in the early stage! Two tests your doctor can perform to help prevent cervical cancer are the Pap smear exam and HPV test. A Pap smear exam can help detect cell changes in the cervix that if untreated, can potentially lead to cancer. HPV, which stands for human papillomavirus, is a sexually transmitted infection that is the leading cause of cervical cancer. The HPV test can help identify the virus in the cervix.
Another precaution women can take to reduce the risk of getting cervical cancer is practicing safe sex. Wearing a condom and limiting sexual partners can decrease the risk of developing HPV. Refraining from smoking may also decrease your risk. Additionally, for younger women, receiving the HPV vaccine has been shown to help prevent getting HPV. Just remember, that even if you’ve received the HPV vaccine, you should still talk to your doctor about having their office administer an HPV test.
If your screening test results are abnormal, DO NOT be immediately alarmed. Abnormal results don’t necessarily mean that you have cancer, and pre-cancerous cells can be removed. Additional testing is required to find out if there is a high intensity of cell changes or if cancer is actually present.
If cervical cancer does develop, some of the symptoms that may occur include pain when urinating, pelvic pain not associated with menstruation, abnormal bleeding, or a heavy discharge from the vagina.
So, if you’re overdue for a Pap smear exam and HPV test, we encourage you to make an appointment with your healthcare provider. If you don’t currently have an OB/GYN, please consider visiting one of our healthcare professionals.