Is cervical cancer preventable?
Cervical cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer, but as with all cancers, it’s important to catch it early.
“The most common form of cervical cancer starts with pre-cancerous changes, and detecting these changes before the disease advances into cancer is the best way to prevent cervical cancer,” says Dr. Lindsey Babbin, a primary care physician with Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, Ill.
The pap test/pap smear and the HPV (human papillomavirus) test are the two tests that can detect pre-cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, most invasive cervical cancers are found in women who have not had regular pap tests.
“How often you should have these tests depends on your age and the results of past tests,” says Dr. Babbin, who adds that it’s important to discuss your history whenever you visit a new physician for your well-woman exam. To find out if you are due for these tests, consult your gynecologist or primary care physician or visit the American Cancer Society for recommended guidelines.
The second way to prevent cervical cancer is to prevent pre-cancers. But this can be difficult.
“Most cervical cancers are caused by certain types of high-risk HPV, and HPV is very common,” says Dr. Babbin. “For the majority of women, an HPV infection will clear up on its own, but sometimes the infection does not go away. When an HPV infection becomes chronic, or long-lasting, especially when caused by certain high-risk HPV types, it can cause cancer over time.”
HPV is spread through skin to skin contact, including, but not limited to sexual contacts. Dr. Babbin gives four ways to reduce, but not prevent, your chances of getting HPV:
- Limit the number of sexual partners you have and avoid sex with those who have had multiple sex partners
- Use a condom
- Don’t smoke
- If you qualify, get the HPV vaccine. The vaccine is most effective before a person becomes exposed to HPV
Even if you follow some or all of the above guidelines, Dr. Babbin says it is still critical to get routine cervical cancer screenings.
Too often, women are not aware of the risks of cervical cancer and how to prevent it. Being educated and proactive is the first step toward a healthy life. Don’t avoid it – schedule a Pap test with your gynecologist today.
About the Author
Kate Eller was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”