In the month of January we raise awareness nationally about cervical cancer, in hopes of continuing to reduce the number of Americans affected by this disease. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services there are 12,000 new people diagnosed each year, and primarily in women over the age of 30. Roughly 79 million Americans are currently living with the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the main cause of cervical cancer.
I always tell my patients that you can be proactive and work to prevent the incidence for you or a family member by:
- Having the HPV vaccine (shots) that can prevent HPV.
- Regular screening tests (called Pap tests) can often prevent Cervical Cancer by finding the abnormal cells early, so you prevent them turning into cancer.
Most deaths from cervical cancer could be prevented by having regular Pap tests and annual appointments with your provider. The Center for Disease Control found that around 50% of the patients diagnosed with cervical cancer never had cervical cytology testing, and another 10% had not been screened within the 5 years before diagnosis.
There has been much discussion over the years about when is the best age to start getting tested and the frequency. I follow the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommendation of:
- Younger than 21 – You do not need a screening.
- 21 – 29 years old – Have a Pap test every 3 years.
- 30 – 65 years old – Have a Pap test + an HPV test (co-testing) every 5 years or a Pap test alone every 3 years.
- 65 years or older – You do not need a screening if you have no history, and either have had three negative Pap test results in a row, or two negative co-test results in a row within the last 10 years.
A majority of insurance plans cover well-woman visits and cervical cancer screenings. The incidence of cervical cancer in the United States has decreased by more than 50% in the past 30 years and that’s directly correlated to raising awareness about the importance of these tests.
If you have questions about these screenings or would like to schedule an appointment at Tri-County Health Care, call 218-631-1100, or Embrace Women’s Health Clinic in Baxter at 218-454-1754.
About the Author: Jennifer Arnhold, MD, lives with her husband, three-year old son and poodle in the Brainerd Lakes Area. She graduated from medical school in 2000 and performs gynecology and gynecological surgery at Tri-County Health Care in Wadena, MN. You can also see her for outpatient appointments at Embrace Women’s Health Clinic in Baxter.