January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Here’s something every woman should know about cervical cancer: It’s almost always preventable.
“Rates for cervical cancer have dropped significantly within the United States due to increased screening,” said Tilly Schmidt, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC, with Lake Regional Obstetrics and Gynecology. “Screenings are the best way to find cervical cancer early, when treatment is the most successful, or to prevent cancer altogether.”
Stopping Cancer with Screening
Most cervical cancers start with precancerous changes that gradually turn into cancer.
“Screening can find these abnormal changes, which providers can then treat,” Schmidt said. “That stops cancer from ever developing.”
Screening can include the Pap test, the human papillomavirus (HPV) test or a combination. Both tests are simple and fast and use sample cells from the cervix. The Pap test looks for cell changes and abnormal cells, while the HPV test looks for the virus that causes cell changes.
The American Cancer Society recommends cervical cancer screening with an HPV test alone every five years for everyone with a cervix from age 25 until age 65. If HPV testing alone is not available, an HPV/Pap cotest every five years or a Pap test every three years is recommended.
It’s OK to stop testing if you’re older than 65 and have had normal test results for many years. It’s also OK to stop if you’ve had a total hysterectomy — both your uterus and cervix have been removed — for a noncancerous condition, such as fibroids.
Lake Regional Obstetrics and Gynecology encourages annual exams, which include a pelvic exam. Patients have the right to request an annual Pap test. However, annual Pap tests are not always covered under all insurance providers. Talk to your provider to determine the best testing schedule for you.
Help is Available
Lake Regional knows how important it is for women to have access to quality screening and treatment services for breast and cervical cancers. That is why Lake Regional Obstetrics and Gynecology is a Show Me Healthy Women provider.
Show Me Healthy Women is Missouri’s implementation of the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. The program provides free breast and cervical cancer screenings throughout Missouri, for women meeting certain age, income and insurance guidelines.
Under Show Me Healthy Women, cervical cancer screenings are available to women age 35 to 64. For women who have a cervix, Pap tests will be covered every three years if no HPV testing is done, or screening with a combination of a Pap test and HPV testing every five years. For more information about the program, contact Lake Regional Obstetrics and Gynecology or visit lakeregional.com/obgyn.
Sources: American Cancer Society, Centers for Disease control and Prevention, National Cancer Institute and Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services