Dr. Mom medical blog explores How Can I Prevent Cervical Cancer: Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

Cervical cancer is a scary diagnosis, with it affecting 1 in 5 Canadian women. Fortunately, there are many steps we can take to prevent it and one of them is by talking straight to my patients about the pap smear. Cervical cancer screening (done through a pap smear) can identify cervical cancer and cervical “pre-cancer” in early stages that can be treated.

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the uterine cervix, which is the passage connecting the uterus and vagina.

Before cervical cancer develops, the cells of the cervix change and become abnormal. We are able to detect abnormal cells with the Pap test. A Pap test is completed by a physician inserting a speculum into the vagina. Once the physician views the cervix, cells at the outer opening of cervix are collected with a swab.

What are risk factors for cervical cancer?

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer. Other risk factors include smoking, having early sexual intercourse, having numerous sexual partners, and a history of sexually transmitted infections.

How can I prevent cervical cancer

Early detection and treatment of cervical cancer are a great way to prevent the disease from starting in the first place – and that begins with regular Pap smears. In addition, there are vaccines available in North America that help reduce your risk for certain types of HPV infection.

When do I start Pap tests and how often do I need a Pap test?

In Canada, we recommend starting screening for cervical cancer with a Pap test at the age of 25 years old. In the US, cervical cancer screening starts at age 21. The Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care recommends screening for cervical cancer every 3 years if Pap tests are normal. An abnormal Pap will require an earlier Pap test or referral to gynecology for additional testing. In Canada, cervical cancer screening typically stops at age 69.

What is a Pap test?

Before cervical cancer develops, the cells of the cervix change and become abnormal. We are able to detect abnormal cells with the Pap test. A Pap test is completed by a physician inserting a speculum into the vagina. Once the physician views the cervix, cells at the outer opening of the cervix are collected with a swab.

What are risk factors for cervical cancer?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) – a sexually transmitted virus, is the main risk factor for developing cervical cancer. Other risk factors include: smoking, early onset of sexual activity, multiple sexual partners, history of sexually transmitted infections, and infection with HIV.

How can I prevent cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer may be prevented by early diagnosis and treatment, which starts with regular Pap tests. In addition, there are vaccines in Canada and the US that help protect against infection of certain HPV strains.

When do I start Pap tests and how often do I need a Pap test?

In Canada, we recommend starting screening for cervical cancer with a Pap test at age 25 years old. In the US, cervical cancer screening starts at age 21. The Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care recommends screening for cervical cancer every 3 years if Pap tests are normal. An abnormal Pap will require an earlier Pap test, or referral to gynecology for additional testing. In Canada, cervical cancer screening typically stops at age 69.

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Mom guilt and self-care

References

http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/cervical/cervical-cancer/?region=on

Fromovitz, M (2018) Invasive Cervical Cancer: Epidemiology, risk factors, clinical manifestations and diagnosis. In:UpToDate, Falk, S (Ed). UptoDate, Waltham, MA.

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