Cervical cancer is not an easy subject to discuss, but getting screened regularly for it is important for all women because that is the most effective way to find the disease early so it can be treated. It is highly treatable when it is found early enough, and it’s associated with long survival and good quality of life.
Who does cervical cancer affect?
Cervical cancer most often affects women over the age of 30. About 12,900 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year in the United States and about 4,000 women will die from the disease. In Idaho, there are an average of 44 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed each year, and an average of 14 women die of the disease.
Who is most at risk?
Almost all cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV is a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex. Women who become sexually active at an early age or who have several sexual partners are at a greater risk, but any woman who has ever had sex is at risk for HPV. Not getting screened or being HIV positive increases a woman’s risk for cervical cancer, and smoking doubles it.
What can be done to help prevent cervical cancer?
Women can get regular screenings and get the HPV vaccine. Public health officials recommend the vaccine for 11 to 12-year-old girls, before they become sexually active. The vaccine is also recommended for girls and women ages 13 to 26 who did not get vaccinated when they were younger.
How often should women get tested?
In 2014, Idaho ranked last among states and the District of Columbia in the percentage of women ages 21-65 who had had a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer within the previous three years. Women should talk with their doctors about how often they should get screened. Idaho’s Women’s Health Check program can help low-income, uninsured women who qualify receive free screenings for breast and cervical cancers. You’ll find more information at www.womenshealthcheck.dhw.idaho.gov or by calling the Idaho Careline at 2-1-1.
Is there anything else women can do to prevent cervical cancer?
In addition to regular screenings, women can limit the number of sexual partners they have and be sure to use condoms. Quitting smoking can also help reduce the risk of cervical as well as several other types of cancer.