According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, nearly 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, even though the disease is almost always preventable with vaccination and regular screening. At Women’s Care, we’re devoted to keeping our patients healthy and we believe having access to the most up-to-date educational information is crucial to making important decisions about your well-being. That’s why we sat down with Dr. Therese Yarroch to get the facts about cervical cancer prevention.
What Is Cervical Cancer?
Generally speaking, cancer begins when cells in the body start to grow out of control. Cervical cancer occurs in the cells “in the bottom portion of the uterus that we can see on a speculum exam through the vagina,” Dr. Yarroch explains.
Almost any part of the body can become cancerous and that cancer can continue to spread to other areas of the body.
Are Certain Women At A Higher Risk For Cervical Cancer?
Unlike many diseases, Dr. Yarroch notes that family history does not normally increase your likelihood of contracting cervical cancer.
“In most cases, cervical cancer is caused by HPV, which is a very common sexually transmitted virus that suppresses the immune system,” Dr. Yarroch says.
Women who have a suppressed immune system, including those who smoke, are typically at a higher risk for cervical cancer, but it’s important to remember that this disease is very preventable with vaccination and regular screening.
If Cervical Cancer Is Preventable, Why Is It So Common?
“Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women worldwide, but it is less common than some other female cancers in the United States because we do have preventative measures in place,” Dr. Yarroch explains.
Unfortunately, it still remains an issue because HPV is so prevalent.
“It’s also important to keep in mind that not everyone is able or willing to follow all of the guidelines that are recommended to help prevent cervical cancer,” Dr. Yarroch explains. That’s why educating the public and providing access to affordable healthcare is so important.
Pap Smears And Pelvic Exams
“It used to be that women started getting Pap smears as teenagers and continued to get them every year,” Dr. Yarroch says.
Now, screening guidelines recommend that women have their first Pap smear at age 21 and continue to have one every three years until age 30 when they can choose to get a Pap smear with HPV co-testing every 5 years instead.
Having regular Pap smears is crucial to preventing cervical cancer. During this portion of the exam, your gynecologist collects cells from the end of your cervix. Those cells are then looked at under a microscope to give your gynecologist a better indication of if cancer or pre-cancer is a concern.
“The important thing to remember is that even though you may not need a Pap smear every year, it is still strongly recommended that see your gynecologist and have an annual pelvic exam,” Dr. Yarroch says.
“When we do a pelvic exam we are looking at the cervix and checking for any bumps or color changes on the cervix that would be concerning for cancer or pre-cancer,” Dr. Yarroch explains.
“In the past, we didn’t have any way to prevent the spread of HPV, which is the main cause of cervical cancer, but now we do.” Dr. Yarroch says.
It is recommended that the HPV vaccination be given before a person even has the opportunity to become sexually active. While you can receive the vaccination later in life, it’s important to note that most insurance companies do not cover the vaccination after age 27.
“We also find that the HPV vaccination is more effective in patients when it is given at a young age because the immune system is more robust and able to build up a stronger immunity against the virus,” Dr. Yarroch explains.
“With this vaccination, the hope is that in the future we will be able to further reduce the incidents of cervical cancer,” Dr. Yarroch says.
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If you would like to schedule an appointment with one of our providers at Women’s Care, you can call us at 920-729-7105 or click here.