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The Importance of Cervical Screenings and Vaccinations

The National Cervical Cancer Coalition reports that more than 14,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer each year. An estimated 4,200 women died from the disease last year, according to the National Cancer Institute. Thankfully, cervical cancer can be preventable with routine screenings and vaccination.

Understanding Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer occurs when cancer cells arise in the cervix, which connects the uterus to the vagina. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is almost always the cause of the disease.

HPV infections are very common. Luckily, the body can clear itself of the virus in most cases. This unfortunately is not the reality for all individuals diagnosed with HPV. Some infections turn chronic. Since there is currently no cure for HPV, vaccination is the best line of defense for protecting yourself and preventing cervical cancer.

Prevention matters

Three vaccines are currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help prevent infection with certain subtypes of HPV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all preteens get vaccinated for HPV.

Vaccines can be administered beginning at age 9. Everyone over the age of 26 is not recommended to receive the HPV vaccination. Some adults ages 27 through 45 who have not already been vaccinated could decide to receive the vaccine after discussing it with their doctor. Though still helpful, HPV vaccination of adults provides fewer benefits since more people in this group have already been exposed to the virus.

Thanks to HPV vaccines, the number of cases of precancers of the cervix in young women has been reduced. Fewer teens and young adults are developing genital warts due to the protection provided by vaccination.

Since HPV vaccines were first introduced in the U.S. in 2006, HPV infections and cervical precancers have declined. Research shows that infections with HPV types that cause most HPV cancers and genital warts have plummeted by 88% among teen girls and 81% for young adult women. For vaccinated women, the percentage of cervical precancers caused by the HPV types most often associated with cervical cancer has dropped by 40%.

As with any vaccine, scientists continue to monitor HPV vaccines to ensure they remain safe and effective. More than 15 years of monitoring have proven that to be the case.

Regular Pap testing is key for detecting cervical cancers

Detecting HPV is one of the main reasons routine Pap smears are essential to women’s healthcare. Screenings may detect changes in cervical cells that suggest cancer could develop later on. It is generally advised that women ages 21 to 65 get a Pap test every three years.

It is commonly recommended to start Pap testing at age 21. Women ages 30 and over may receive a Pap test every five years if the procedure is combined with testing for HPV.  If you have any of these specific risk factors, your doctor may recommend more frequent testing:

  • A diagnosis of cervical cancer or a Pap smear that showed precancerous cells
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth
  • HIV infection
  • Weakened immune system due to organ transplant, chemotherapy, or chronic corticosteroid use
  • A history of smoking

Guidelines change as a woman gets older. Doctors generally agree that women could decide to stop routine Pap testing at the age of 65 if previous screenings for cervical cancer have come back negative. Individuals who are sexually active with multiple partners could be guided by their physician to continue testing.

You and your provider should discuss what is best for you and your health. Physicians at Pardee OB/GYN Associates are currently accepting new patients. To learn more, visit  pardeehospital.org.

Pamela Della Valle

Pamela Della Valle, MD

Obstetrician and Gynecologist
Pardee OB/GYN Associates
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