Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Because of the HPV connection, there are several actions that you can take to reduce the likelihood of acquiring the virus and your chances of getting cervical cancer.
HPV vaccines have the potential for preventing cervical cancer. Routine vaccination is recommended for females aged 11 to 26 and is most effective when given to girls between the ages of 11 to 12. Three doses of the vaccine are given by injection during a six-month period.
Avoid sexual contact, limit partners, have a partner who only has sex with you:
Abstinence from sexual intercourse and any skin-to-skin contact in the genital area can help you avoid getting HPV.
Advances have been made in screening for cervical cancer in the last few decades. When caught early, cervical cancer is highly treatable. One of the most effective ways to prevent cervical cancer is to get a Pap and an HPV screening test regularly.
The Pap test
A sample of cells are taken from a woman's cervix and tested for changes or abnormalities or cancer.
In the two days before the test, you should avoid:
- Using a tampon
- Using any suppositories, creams or medications that must be inserted into the vagina
- Using any vaginal deodorant sprays or powders
- Having sexRecommended cervical cancer screening schedule:
- Ages 18-34: Pelvic exam every one to three years; after three consecutive normal tests, a Pap test can be performed every one to three years based on baseline results.
- Ages 35-49: Pelvic exam and Pap test every one to three years, based on physician review.
- Ages 50-64: Pelvic exam and Pap test every one to three years, based on physician review until age 65.
- Ages 65+: Based on physician recommendation.
What to expect
- The Pap test is done during a pelvic exam.
- A doctor uses a device called a speculum to widen the opening of the vagina so that the cervix can be examined.
- A plastic spatula and small brush are used to collect cells from the cervix.
- After the cells are taken, they are placed into a solution and sent to a lab for testing.
- Results are usually mailed to you within a week or two. The doctor's office may call you.
Researchers are developing better ways to detect cervical cancer. A newer test, the Thin Prep test, transfers a thin layer of cells onto a slide. Because this sample can be preserved, a test for HPV can be done at the same time. Some physicians use a fluorescent light to detect changes in the precancerous cells in the cervix.
The HPV Test
Since HPV is a common risk factor in cervical cancer, during your pelvic exam, your doctor may also remove cells for an HPV test. A positive test result means you have a high-risk strain of HPV and the doctor will want to do follow up exams to make sure the infection goes away and that abnormal cells don't develop.
A positive HPV test result does not mean that you have cancer, but that you have a higher than normal risk. You can have HPV for a long time before it is found, so a positive test does not mean that you or your partner had sex outside the relationship.
Your doctor may order an HPV test under the following conditions:
- If your Pap test shows unusual cells, your doctor may order an HPV test
- An HPV test may be done along with a Pap test if you are age 30 or older. The longer you have HPV, the higher your risk of cancer.
- Women in their 20s don't need an HPV test in addition to the Pap test. HPV infection is very common in this age group and usually goes away.
- The HPV test is not used for men. Most of the time, men don't develop health problems from HPV.