When you hear the word “cancer,” you automatically get worried, and with good reason. But the words “cervical cancer” shouldn’t strike as much fear in your heart these days.
That’s because the rate of death from cervical cancer has dropped by almost half in the past few decades, thanks to ramped-up prevention efforts.
In fact, cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that’s almost completely preventable — if women take one simple action when they visit the doctor.
At Arlington Family Practice in Arlington, Massachusetts, we believe it’s never been easier to prevent cervical cancer. Here’s why.
What is cervical cancer?
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that connects it to the vagina. It includes two types of cells: squamous and glandular. Most cervical cancer cases start in the squamous cells, but a few begin in the glandular cells.
Cervical cancer is a slow-growing cancer usually caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease. The body’s immune system usually protects you from exposure to the virus, but in a few cases, the virus survives.
It usually takes a few years for a normal cell to become cancerous. The early stages of cervical cancer rarely result in symptoms, so most people won’t know they have it until it reaches an advanced stage — or until a screening test finds it.
How can you prevent cervical cancer?
About 4,000 women die each year in the United States from cervical cancer, and most of those deaths are preventable. In fact, up to 93% of cervical cancers could be prevented with screenings and HPV vaccinations.
The first line of defense against cervical cancer is a Pap smear, or Pap test. During your annual exam, your doctor takes a sample of your cervical cells to see if any are precancerous. At this stage, precancerous cells can be treated to keep them from turning into cancer cells.
An HPV test looks for the presence of HPV in your body. It’s the most common sexually transmitted disease; the more partners you’ve had, the more likely you have HPV.
The HPV vaccine prevents infection by HPV. The American Cancer Society recommends it for kids ages 9-12 (before they become sexually active) or by age 26 at the latest.
Getting screened with the Pap and HPV tests makes it easy to prevent cervical cancer from becoming a problem for you. Starting at age 21, women should get a Pap test every three years until age 65. The HPV test can be added in as well.
Since more than 50% of all new cervical cancers are in women who’ve never been screened or haven’t in the previous five years, screening is vitally important.
If you need screening for cervical cancer, the expert providers at Arlington Family Practice are ready to help. Don’t wait to get tested. Call our office or book your appointment online today.