Protect Yourself from Cervical Cancer
For women around the world, cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer. Fortunately, when diagnosed at an early stage, cervical cancer is highly treatable. However, the cervix is probably not a body part you think of very often. That’s why January is cervical cancer awareness month!
What’s a cervix?
Located at the bottom of the uterus, the cervix is the opening between the vagina and the uterus. Because the cervix is such an internal part of the body, a woman can have cervical cancer and not realize it until the later stages.
What causes cervical cancer?
Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, and most who are sexually active will get HPV at some point. However, the infection usually has no symptoms and the body is often able to clear the infection on its own. When the body is not able to deal with the infection, it can lead to cervical cancer.
What can I do for protection?
- Get your HPV vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that both males and females receive the HPV vaccine. This helps to stop the spread of the virus. If you’ve never received your HPV vaccine, talk to your provider.
- Use condoms. If you’re sexually active, always use condoms. This limits the spread of HPV between you and your partner(s).
- Get regular Pap smears. It’s important to have Pap smears completed even if you have received the HPV vaccine. During this cervical cancer screening, a soft brush is used to collect cells from the cervix. The cells are then viewed to see if there are any changes that could lead to cancer. Pap smears are recommended for most women starting at age 21, regardless of sexual activity. Routine Pap smears are typically recommended every 3 years from age 21-29, and then every 5 years from age 30-65. Your provider will help you decide how often you should be screened based on your health history.
- Talk to your provider if you notice changes. If you experience anything out of the ordinary, like abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, talk to your provider. The symptoms for cervical cancer are not the same for everyone. It’s always best to address changes in your health that could point to a bigger issue.
If you have any questions, talk to your primary care or OB/GYN provider. If you don’t have a provider, establish care at St. Luke’s.