All women, especially those over the age of 30, are at risk for developing cervical cancer, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it’s also the easiest gynecologic cancer to prevent, with regular screening. Getting screened regularly for cervical cancer is important because that is the most effective way to find the disease early. It is highly treatable when it is found early enough. Unfortunately, Idaho has the lowest rate for cervical screening in the United States.
How many women will this affect this year?
About 12,000 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, 47 women were diagnosed and 17 women died from cervical cancer in 2015 (the most recent year we have data for).
Who is most at risk?
Almost all cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex. HPV is so common that most people get it at some time in their lives. It usually causes no symptoms so you can’t tell that you have it. For most women, HPV will go away on its own; however, if it does not, there is a chance that over time it may cause cervical cancer. Some other factors that increase risk include not getting screened or being HIV positive, and smoking doubles a woman’s risk.
What can be done to help prevent cervical cancer?
Women can get regular screenings and get the HPV vaccine. There are two tests that can help prevent cervical cancer:
- The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for changes in cells on the cervix that may become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately. Women should start getting Pap tests at age 21.
- The human papillomavirus (HPV) test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.
The most important thing a woman can do to help prevent cervical cancer is to have regular screening tests starting when she’s 21. The HPV vaccine is recommended for preteen boys and girls at age 11 or 12, so they are protected before ever being exposed to the virus. The vaccine is available for teens and adults through age 26.
How often should women get tested?
Women should talk with their doctors about how often they should get screened, but generally, all women ages 21-65 should be screened once every 3-5 years because early detection saves lives. 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.
A Closer Look at Your Health airs weekly on KBOI-AM 670 on Tuesdays at 6:50 a.m. MST. This is a transcript of the Jan. 22, 2018 program.
- About cervical cancer: http://healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/Health/DiseasesConditions/Cancer/SkinCancer/tabid/504/Default.aspx#tabs_dnn_ctr14848_JQueryTabs-2
- About Women’s Health Check: womenshealthcheck.dhw.idaho.gov
- Facts about HPV Vaccination: https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/index.html
- American Cancer Society on cervical cancer: https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/special-coverage/cervical-health-awareness-month.html