How to reduce the risk of cervical cancer
Cervical cancer can be sneaky because it often has no symptoms early in its development, sometimes until it has spread.
When this happens, you may notice:
- Pelvic pain or bleeding from the vagina.
- An unusual vaginal discharge, which may include blood. This may happen between your periods or after menopause.
- Pain during sex.
Fortunately, with early detection through regular Pap tests, cervical cancer is one of the most treatable cancers.
Reduce your risk
You can reduce your risk for cervical cancer by avoiding unprotected sex and getting the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination. This vaccine can also reduce your risk of vaginal, vulvar and anal cancers, as well as genital warts.
Reduce your family’s risk
If you have a child (girl or boy) older than 9 years, visit with your health care provider about giving your child the HPV vaccine. The vaccine is most effective when given before a person is sexually active. Even though males can’t get cervical cancer, they can spread HPV, get anal cancer or genital warts.
Your health care provider can give you guidance about the testing that’s right for you.
The Pap test, or Pap smear, looks for a precancerous condition called dysplasia – a change in cells that precedes cancer. You should start getting Pap tests at age 21.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA test looks for the virus that can cause cell changes. Starting at age 30, women should also have the HPV DNA test done with their pap smear.
If you’re one of the 32 women in America who will be diagnosed with the disease on any given day, your health care professional can refer you to a gynecologic oncologist — a doctor trained to treat cervical cancer and other women’s reproductive system cancers.
About the Author
Rachel Fournogerakis, DO, is an OB/GYN at Aurora Health Center in Summit, WI.