Can You Prevent Cervical Cancer?

In the early 1900s, more women in the United States died of cervical cancer than any other type of cancer. Thanks to preventive measures — including Pap tests and human papilloma virus (HPV) tests — cervical cancer rates plummeted from 24-37 cases per 100,000 women to just 7.7 cases per 100,000 women by 2016.

Our caring and expert staff at OBGYN Care of Houston wants you to stay cancer-free. That’s why Sharon Smith, MD, and her team recommend regular screenings for cervical cancer as part of your well-woman exams. Here she breaks down the measures you can take to prevent cervical cancer.

The Pap test

The Pap test allows us to catch cervical cancer in its earliest, most treatable stages by identifying precancerous changes in the cells on your cervix, which is the opening to your uterus. Widespread use of Pap tests is the main reason that cervical cancer rates dropped so dramatically during the last century.

To do the Pap test, we ask you to lie on your back on the examining table. We insert a tool called a speculum into your vagina to widen it and gain access to your cervix. Then we insert a swab to collect cells from your cervix. We send the sample cells to a laboratory, where the technicians evaluate them.

The entire procedure only takes a few minutes. Although you feel a slight pinch when we insert the speculum and the swab, a Pap test isn’t painful.

After a week or two, the lab lets us know whether the cells from your cervix were normal. If they’re abnormal, Dr. Smith conducts another Pap smear to verify the results and may also perform a procedure called a colposcopy, in which she uses a special magnifying instrument to more closely examine your cervix for precancerous changes.

Most of the time, though, our patients’ Pap tests are negative, which means the cervical cells are normal. The American College of Gynecologists recommends that women receive Pap tests according to the following schedule:

At OBGYN Care, we recommend getting both a Pap test and an HPV test when you’re 30-65 years old. After age 65, you don’t need to continue Pap tests unless you have a history of abnormal results. You may need a Pap test even if you had a hysterectomy, because cervical cells can linger in the vagina.

HPV screening

The human papilloma virus comes in more than 200 varieties, some of which are linked to cervical cancer. 

You can acquire an HPV infection through intimate touching and sexual activity. Using a condom during intercourse protects against some types of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), but is not sufficient protection against HPV.

We perform an HPV test at the same time and in the same manner as a Pap test. The lab checks your cervical cells to see if HPV is present. If your cervical cells are normal but you have HPV, it could later cause precancerous changes in your cells that could lead to cervical cancer.

If you’re between the ages of 30-65, the Office on Women’s Health (OWH) screening recommendations are:

If you’re female between the ages of 9-26 years, the OWH recommends you also get an HPV vaccine. An HPV vaccine is available for males, too.

To schedule your well-woman exam and to find out more about how to prevent cervical cancer, call us at our Houston, Texas, office. Dr. Smith also now offers virtual visits.

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