January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month!
Cervical cancer is related to high-risk Human Papilloma virus (HPV). Risk factors for contracting HPV include age of first intercourse and number of sexual partners. Most healthy non-smoking women can clear the virus, however, immunocompromised conditions and smoking decrease the chance of women clearing this virus on their own. Subsequently, this can lead to cervical cancer. Most cervical cancer cases occur in women who do not obtain routine and recommended screening.
Routine pap smear testing is recommended in women 21 years of age and older, regardless of sexual activity. If initial screening is negative, then the frequency is spaced out to every 3 years. For women with cervical cell changes or who test positive for HPV, the testing is more fequent and may even require procedures to remove abnormal cells. If this happens, you may be referred to a Gynecologist who performs a more invasive test called a Colposcopy, which takes a more detailed view of your cervix and may include a biopsy. Some women need ablation with either cryotherapy or a laser and others need a more extensive biopsy of the cervix performed in an operating room.
The key to having a better outcome is regular screening. Women who are proactive about their health are generally not the patients who are diagnosed with advanced cervical disease. Talk to your Family physician or Gynecologist today about results from your last pap smear as well as the plan for your next pap smear.