Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States. But this number has fallen dramatically, thanks to advances in testing and a strong message from the medical field for women to have Pap tests regularly.
In fact, the most recent numbers show that just over 4,000 died from cervical cancer in 2012, whereas just over 41,000 women died from breast cancer. Now most women have insurance that will cover a test and many states offer free or low-cost programs for women without coverage, or who have very high deductibles.
Even so, cervical cancer is still a cancer causing a lot of devastation.
Here are three ways to reduce the risk for cervical cancer:
1) Have a Pap test and an HPV test as recommended by your health care provider.
According to many leading agencies, including the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, women should begin testing at 21 years of age. They should continue to test every three years until they are 30 years old, assuming HPV test results are negative and Pap test results are normal.
From 30 to 65 years old, a woman has the option of continuing to have a Pap test only every three years. Or she can have a Pap and an HPV co-test every five years, assuming all results are normal/negative.
While most of the strains do not cause any problems, there are about 15 of the strains that can lead to cervical cancer. Preventive screening is critical to reducing cervical cancer risk as it can identify abnormal cells before they become fully cancerous and can identify whether or not a woman has the HPV virus in the cervical area.
2) Limit contact or use protection during sexual activities.
HPV is spread via skin-to-skin contact. so contact should be limited, or protection should be used, during sexual activities. Unlike other diseases that are spread via blood or secretions, HPV can transfer from one person to another simply by touching infected tissue such as during vaginal, anal and oral sex.
The CDC reports, “Anyone can get HPV, even if you have had sex with only one person.”
If that person has had an HPV-positive partner, they could acquire the virus, too. This is why HPV is known as the most common sexually transmitted infection.
As stated, most strains do not cause any problems, however some cause genital warts and others cause cervical cancer.
Unfortunately, at this time there is no known testing for males so it is extremely difficult to know if they have the virus.
3) Stop smoking now.
According to the American Cancer Society, women who smoke are twice as likely to get cervical cancer. The chemicals found in cigarette smoke can cause DNA damage to the tissue in the cervix. They inhibit the immune system's ability to heal those cells, or to stay healthy in general.
Screening for cervical cancer is so easy and routine. If you do not have insurance, or you have any insurance issues that may make obtaining a Pap difficult or expensive, contact the CDC's National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program and see what options are available in your state.
1) American Cancer Society. (2015). What are Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer?
2) The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists. (2013). New Guidelines for Cervical Cancer Screening.
3) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Breast Cancer Statistics.
4) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Cervical Cancer Statistics.
5) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.
6) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). What is HPV?
Reviewed January 12, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith