January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, but just because the calendar is about to change does not mean it should draw your attention away from the importance of setting up an appointment to get tested.
It does not get talked about as much because the numbers have gone down over the past 40 years when cervical cancer was the leading type of cancer among women in the US. Prevention efforts and screenings have made a difference.
Doctor Katy Wessel, a family practice/obstetrics physician with St. Peter’s Health Medical Group, explains when women should start getting screened.
“We used to do annual screening and that has changed a little bit recently,” Wessel said. “We follow the standard of care which is to not start getting pap smears until you’re 21 years old, which is a
little different from previous and that you only have to have a pap smear every three years in your 20s. In your 30s we do a pap with HPV testing. If both are negative, then you only have to have a pap smear every five years.
“Now the concern that happens sometimes with that is that does not mean we don’t want to see you
every year because there are other things that happen in an annual physical exam, such as a breast
exam and screening for breast cancer.”
A woman’s chances of getting cervical cancer are not directly related to any family history.
“We now know that it is more commonly caused by an infection with HPV, which stands for Human Papillomavirus,” Wessel said.
Part of the reason instances of cervical cancer have gone down is the recommendation both boys and girls get a HPV vaccine just before becoming teenagers.
“Eleven to 12 years old, both boys and girls cause that helps decrease the overall incidents of HPV
virus just by cutting it down in both populations.”
There is still good news for women who want to have a baby and may have been diagnosed with cervical cancer.
“Most of time they can (have a baby) especially if it is caught early, having a colonoscopy and small
biopsies taken is not going to have any effect on your cervix down the road. Usually a LEEP procedure won’t, either. A cone biopsy, the biggest concern down the road would be having an incompetent cervix possibly because so much of the cervix was removed,” Wessel said.
Wessel says St. Peter’s is in the 90th percentile nationally at getting women screened for cervical
cancer and the hospital is doing an outreach campaign to contact those who possibly need a reminder to get their pap smear done.