We've come a long way, ladies. It used to be that cervical cancer was the No. 1 cause of cancer death for women. Not anymore—all thanks to regular screenings (make yours part of a comprehensive half-day University of Utah Health clinic). Here's what you need to know to keep the trend going.
1. You need to get a Pap test. End of story.
This exam looks for changes in the cervix and is your main defense against cervical cancer. While it's true that frequency recommendations changed recently, you still need to have it done—and at the proper interval. If you're between 21 and 29, get a Pap test every three years. Those 30 to 65 can go five years between exams.
2. An abnormal Pap result doesn't necessarily mean you have cancer.
Experts estimate that three million women receive abnormal results every year, and these are often caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Your doctor will advise you on the next steps, which can include waiting a certain length of time before doing a new test, conducting a closer examination of your cervix (aka a colposcopy) or performing a biopsy.
3. HPV causes most cervical cancers.
HPV can be spread through intercourse and is common, with more than half of all sexually active individuals being infected at some point in their lives. HPV vaccines are available for those 9 to 26. Women 30 and older should get an HPV test with their Pap test.
4. Cervical cancer is silent.
Advanced cervical cancer can cause pelvic pain and vaginal bleeding. But early on, there are generally no warning signs because it can take several years for normal cervical cells to turn cancerous. That's why getting Pap and HPV tests is so important. The earlier it is detected, the easier it is to treat it.