January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, so before you go all-in on your New Year’s resolutions, take the opportunity this month to make sure you’re up-to-date on your cervical cancer screenings.
While it used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States, the death rate from cervical cancer has considerably decreased in the past 40 years, thanks to the increased use of the Pap test, also called a Pap smear, for screening. Still, the American Cancer Society estimated that more than 13,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2018 and more than 4,000 died from the disease.
“It’s all about getting screened,” said Jamie Plett, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist with OSF HealthCare in Rockford. “Catching pre-cancerous cells before they can develop into cancer, or catching cancer early, is the best way to fight the disease. The treatment is easier and success is more likely.”
Who should get treated and how often
According to the American Cancer Society women should follow these general screening guidelines:
- Women age 21 to 29, should have a Pap test every three years.
- Beginning at age 30 and continuing until age 65, women should get a Pap test combined with an HPV test every five years. Continuing with only a Pap test every three years, instead, is also acceptable.
- Women over 65 who have had regular screening for the previous 10 years and no serious pre-cancers in the past 20 years do not need to continue getting screened.
Women who have received the HPV vaccine still need to follow the guidelines. And women who have stopped having children still need to get screened regularly, too. More details about the guidelines can be found at the American Cancer Society website.
While the general guideline calls for a screening once every three years, the frequency with which you need to get tested can vary depending on your health history, according to Dr. Plett. Those guidelines only apply if you’ve never had a Pap test with abnormal results. If you have, you need to get screened more often, possibly every year or every six months.
So, consider this a reminder to schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN to discuss cervical cancer screening and learn what is right for you.
If you don’t currently have an OB/GYN, begin your search here, or talk to your primary care provider.