cervical cancer screening

The Latest in Cervical Cancer Screening and Prevention

In previous generations of women, cervical cancer was one of the most common causes of cancer death, but advancements in cervical cancer screening have dramatically changed this statistic. Over the last 40 years, the cervical cancer death rate has decreased by more than 50 percent (source: American Cancer Society). The primary reason for the change? The increased use of the Pap test which can find cervical cancer in its most curable stages and even identify changes in the cervix prior to cancer developing.

Understanding Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines

While cervical cancer screening was once routine as part of an annual well-woman exam, guidelines have changed through the years. Your age and health status now determine how often you need screening and which tests are recommended. Current guidelines are:

  • Age 21-29: Women have a Pap smear every three years
  • Age 30-65: Women have a Pap smear and HPV test (co-testing) every five years

For women with certain risk factors or symptoms, more frequent screening for cervical cancer may be suggested. It’s important to talk to your primary care doctor about the optimal cancer screening schedule for you, based on your health and family history.

“Healthcare is a partnership,” says Dr. Andrew Menzin, Chief, Division of Gynecologic Oncology, Central Region Department of OB/GYN, Northwell Health. “In today’s healthcare setting, women need to be proactive about their health through dialog with their doctor and maintaining important records, such as Pap test results.”
It’s also essential to contact your doctor right away if you are experiencing any unusual symptoms, such as:

  • Bleeding
  • Discharge
  • Pelvic pain

Gynecologist or General Practitioner?

Many young women rely on their gynecologist as their facilitator of primary care. Those who do should mention this during their well-woman exams to ensure they receive other necessary screenings, such as for blood pressure, bone density, weight, cholesterol and emotional health.

As women get older, their gynecological needs evolve. Cervical cancer screening may be discontinued in some women at 65 years, and the gynecologist can help navigate the medical issues that occur as part of the transition into the menopausal years. Regular visits remain an important part of women’s health maintenance.

Strides in Cervical Cancer Prevention

It is a unique moment in medical history when a vaccine can help prevent the development of cancer. This is currently the case with the available vaccines to prevent infection by certain types of the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV causes most cases of cervical cancer, as well as many vaginal, vulvar, anal, penile and oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the throat and mouth).

The American Cancer Society recommends routine HPV vaccination for girls and boys, starting at age 11 or 12. HPV vaccination is also recommended for females 13 to 26 and males 13 to 21 who have not already started the vaccines. Talk to your doctor for specific HPV vaccination recommendations for yourself or your child.

Find out more about cervical cancer prevention and treatment. At Katz Institute for Women’s Health, we’re here to answer your questions. Call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-5494 to speak to a women’s health specialist.

cervical cancer screening

What’s New in Cervical Cancer Screening and Prevention?

Recently, sports journalist Erin Andrews confirmed that she had undergone surgery for cervical cancer. By making her diagnosis and treatment public, Andrews provided an important reminder to all women that cervical cancer screenings save lives. Once a common cause of death among women, the cervical cancer death rate has decreased substantially over the past 40 years, primarily because of Pap tests which detect cervical cancer in its earliest and most preventable stage.

Although Pap tests have been used to screen for cervical cancer for decades, the guidelines for when women should be screened have changed in recent years. It was once considered a healthcare necessity for women to undergo an annual Pap test. These guidelines have been revised due to new research and advances in preventive care. The American Cancer Society and the US Preventive Services Task Force now recommend that healthy women begin cervical cancer screenings at age 21 with Pap tests every three years. At age 30, women should have a Pap test combined with an HPV test every five years. Women over the age of 65 may not need to continue screening if there has not been a history of significant cervical pre-cancer and her screening has been adequate. Of course, these guidelines do not apply to all women. Depending on specific circumstances, a woman may require other testing or continued screening. This is why it’s important to discuss your specific screening needs with your healthcare provider.

Understanding the Link between HPV and Cervical Cancer

Certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) cause nearly all cases of cervical cancer. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. In fact, it’s so common that the vast majority of sexually active men and women acquire it at some point in their lives. There are many types of the HPV virus. Yet, only some cause cervical cancer, as well as other cancers, including cancer of the vulva, vagina, anus, throat and tonsils. Cancer caused by HPV is generally slow-growing and can take years and even decades to develop.

The best way to reduce the spread of HPV infection is through vaccination. The HPV vaccine is highly effective in protecting females, as well as males against HPV when given in the recommended age group. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend 11 to 12-year-olds receive two doses of HPV vaccine to protect against developing cancers caused by HPV. Catch-up vaccines are recommended for males through age 21 and for females through age 26 if they haven’t been previously vaccinated.

“Cervical cancer screening and HPV vaccinations have the potential to virtually eliminate cervical cancer,” say Dr. Andrew Menzin, Chief of Gynecologic Oncology for Northwell Physician Partners, Central Region. “It’s essential for healthcare providers to help their patients understand what they can do to proactively mitigate their risk of this highly preventable form of cancer.”

Cervical Cancer Treatment

For the over 11,000 women in the United States who develop cervical cancer each year, there is also good news. Those who are diagnosed with cervical cancer in its earliest and most preventable stage have a very high survival rate. In other words, be an advocate in your health by ensuring you’re staying current with life-saving cervical cancer screenings.

Learn more about cervical cancer prevention. At Katz Institute for Women’s Health, we’re here to answer your questions. Call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-5494 to speak to a women’s health specialist.

Stay Well with Annual Gynecologic Exams

According to recent cervical cancer-screening guidelines, many women no longer need annual pap tests. However, they still need annual well-woman exams with their gynecologists for other very important screenings and evaluations, based on their age and individual risk factors.
Your annual well-woman visit to the gynecologist is an excellent time to receive counseling about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, as well as information about minimizing health risks.

Here’s what to expect during your annual exam:

  • Blood pressure check
  • Body mass index (BMI) measurement, which uses height and weight
  • Abdomen and lymph nodes check (generally the glands under arms and groin area)
  • A pelvic exam which includes:
    • An external inspection of the area outside the vagina (vulva)
    • An internal speculum exam
    • A combination internal/external exam called a bimanual examination
  • An assessment of overall health

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends beginning annual pelvic exams at age 21 regardless of sexual history. They are not recommended for younger women unless there are reproductive-related symptoms such as discharge or pelvic pain. Also, screening for sexually transmitted infections (STI), especially in certain age groups, is an important part of the visit and is now done by using urine samples or vaginal swabs without an internal pelvic exam.

Your annual checkup is important for the above reasons and much more. Even if it’s not one of the years you are getting a pap test, it’s important for your doctor to do a thorough pelvic exam to check that your pelvic tissues and organs are healthy.

Note: The clinical breast exam (CBE) is another important part of the well-woman visit. ACOG recommends CBEs every one to three years for women ages 20-39. ACOG recommends annual CBE and annual mammograms for
women age 40 and older.

So remember — health really is wealth. Make and keep those annual appointments to maximize your health so you can enjoy life to the fullest!