Although cervical cancer is easiest to treat (and has the best outcomes) when caught early, the disease often presents no symptoms at all in these early, most treatable stages. By the time you start experiencing symptoms, it has often progressed. For this reason, routine screening is a critical component of women’s preventative healthcare.
There are volumes and volumes of literature available exploring prevention, causes, symptoms, risk factors, treatment, and outcomes for cervical cancer, but we know you’re busy. To make it easy for you to stay informed and healthy, we’ve created this quick list of the most important things to know.
#1 – You need a Pap smear.
Patients who appear well can have cervical cancer, which means that even if you have no symptoms at all you, you still need routine Pap smears. Most doctors recommend that you begin Pap testing when you’re 21 years old and receive a Pap smear every 3 years thereafter.
The frequency of Pap testing depends on the results of your previous tests and your risk factors; your doctor may recommend that you receive a Pap test more frequently or even less frequently (up to every 5 years). He or she knows you best.
#2 – HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer.
Just two out of over a hundred strains of HPV (human papillomavirus) account for over 70% of cervical cancer diagnoses. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease impacting approximately 79 million Americans. Risk factors include early first sexual intercourse, having multiple sexual partners, tobacco use, and a suppressed immune system.
If you have any of the signs of symptoms of HPV, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. Symptoms include irregular periods, bleeding after intercourse, pelvic pain, and fatigue — but many people never have symptoms.
You can reduce your risk by using condoms during sexual intercourse and avoiding tobacco. You can improve your outcome by scheduling annual physicals with your OBGYN or primary care physician.
#3 – You still need a physical every year.
Although Pap smears are no longer recommended every year for healthy patients, it’s still critical that you schedule an annual physical with your provider. Routine lab work and physical examination can detect the signs of cervical cancer or other serious health conditions early, which means you get the treatment you need earlier and your outcomes are better overall.
Perhaps more importantly, an annual physical gives you and your provider the time you need to talk about prevention and implement lifestyle changes that can improve your chances of staying healthy long term.
To learn more about cervical cancer prevention, schedule your consultation appointment with Dr. Farly Sejour at Solace Women’s Care today.