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Screenings recommended to detect cervical cancer

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that each year approximately 11,500 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States, and almost 4,000 will die of this cancer. However, like many other cancers, cervical cancer is treatable, and early detection can help save your life. 

Why do I need to be screened for cervical cancer? 

Two main screenings, the HPV (human papillomavirus) test and the Pap test, can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early. The HPV test looks for the HPV virus while the Pap test looks for precancerous cells that could result in cancer. Thanks to these screenings, the incidence of cervical cancer has dramatically decreased in recent years. 

“Having a regular pap smear or HPV test can help determine if you have cancerous or pre-cancerous cells. Early detection results in easier and more successful treatments,” said Dr. Erica Nelson, an SIU Medicine obstetrician and gynecologist. Both tests can be done at your doctor’s office and while some women find them slightly uncomfortable, they should not be painful. 

When do I need to be screened? 

The United States Preventative Services Task Force recommends one of the following general screening guidelines for women starting at age 25 and continuing through age 65: 

  1.  A primary HPV test every 5 years   2.  A primary HPV/Pap smear co-test every 5 years   3.  A Pap smear alone every 3 years 

These guidelines apply to those who have received the HPV vaccine as well. Women over 65 who have had regular screenings for the past 10 years with no precancerous or cancerous results for 20 years do not need to continue to be screened. Exceptions to the screening guidelines apply to those who are HIV positive, have a weakened immune system, had a recent abnormal cervical screening or biopsy or have had cervical cancer.

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer? 

Cervical cancer typically starts with no obvious signs or symptoms. Eventually, it may cause abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding. If you notice any unusual symptoms, it’s important to contact your doctor. 

Schedule an appointment with your OB-GYN to discuss your options for cervical cancer screenings. If you’re looking for an OB-GYN for your care, search our site.

Want to test your cervical cancer knowledge? Take this quiz.

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