January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, an ideal time to learn more about how to prevent cervical cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, over 13,000 cases of invasive cervical cancer were diagnosed in 2020, and over 4,000 of these women died from this disease.
Fortunately, there is a very effective way to prevent cervical cancer – a Pap smear. This test examines the cells of a women’s cervix to see if they are healthy. A Pap smear (named after the late Dr. George Papanicolaou) is designed to detect the earliest signs of cervical cancer. It also tests for any abnormalities that may be precursors of cancer. Most physicians advise women to start getting Pap smears at age 21.
It’s important to remember that skipping a Pap smear recommended by your medical provider can put your health at risk. “This screening test is a fairly quick, easy procedure that can be really beneficial to your health,” remarked Dr. Amanda Saini of the OB-Gyn department at Reliant Medical Group. “That’s why I really urge all women to follow the recommended guidelines from their healthcare provider on Pap smears and other preventative testing.”
While you are having your Pap smear, your medical provider can also perform a human papillomavirus (HPV) test. This test can help determine your risk of developing cervical cancer by searching for types of HPV that may be more likely to cause this cancer. It’s important to know that having a vaccination for HPV does not change your screening recommendations. Women who have received an HPV vaccination still need to follow the recommendations for their age group. The tests your healthcare provider recommends depends on your age and health history.
A key benefit of having a Pap smear is that if a pre-cancer is found during the examination, it can be treated before turning into cervical cancer. Unfortunately, symptoms of cervical cancer do not typically show up until the cancer has invaded tissues in the area surrounding the cervix or has spread to other organs. Women should be aware that initial symptoms of cervical cancer can include:
- Pain during sex or general pain in the pelvis
- Abnormal vaginal discharge that can occur between menstruation or after menopause
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting that is abnormal
Fortunately, the widespread use of an HPV vaccine has led to fewer numbers of cancer that are caused by HPV, including cervical cancer. “We’ve made a lot of progress in the fight against cervical cancer by vaccinating against HPV and testing with Pap smears, remarked Dr. Saini. “We want to remind everyone that following these vaccine and testing guidelines is the best way to stay healthy and avoid this dangerous cancer.”
About Amanda Saini, DO
Back when she was a high school athlete, Dr. Amanda Saini had the unfortunate experience of tearing her ACL. However, that painful experience helped steer her into a career in medicine. “I had surgery, and I just thought it was incredible that I could go from feeling as terrible as I did with the injury to feeling so much better after surgery and physical therapy,” she explains. “That’s what drew me into...View profile View posts by this doctor