Both men and women need regular checkups and screenings to stay healthy. Learn more with our free “Take Care of Yourself” guide. To request your free copy, click here or call 847.618.4YOU(4968).
It only affects a fraction of the U.S. population. But the very mention of cervical cancer has a chilling effect. Perhaps it's because the condition relates to what some consider to be the core of what makes women, well, women. Perhaps it's because there are rarely any symptoms. Or perhaps it's because it often goes undetected for years—and by the time it is diagnosed, chances for survival can be slim.
Despite all these fears, there is good news: Cervical cancer can be prevented. Simply. Effectively. Easily.
According to the American Cancer Society, there are 12,200 new cases of cervical cancer per year—and 4,200 deaths. The cancer begins with precancerous cells growing in the lining of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus. Often, these precancerous cells go away on their own. But in some cases, the cells continue to grow into cancer.
This extremely slow growing cancer often takes years before it reaches terminal status. "The women who die from cervical cancer oftentimes go unscreened … and the cancer goes undetected until there is some overt evidence of it and then it's too late," says Randall Kahan, MD, a board-certified OB/Gyn and chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwest Community Hospital. "The important thing is to have regular checkups that include a simple test so that abnormal cells can be detected before they become cancerous."
What can a woman do to prevent this type of cancer? A simple Pap test can detect precancerous growth. This simple screening can be performed during a woman's regular visit to her gynecologist or primary care physician. If precancerous cells are found, the growth can be treated by removing precancerous tissue before full-blown cancer develops.
"All women, regardless of history, should get a Pap [test] by age 21—or before that, if they are sexually active," Dr. Kahan says. As part of a health-screening routine, Dr. Kahan recommends that women over age 21 have a Pap test every one to two years. If the results are normal three years in a row, and they don't engage in any risky sexual behavior, they can have the test every three years after that. But women should still have an annual breast and pelvic exam, Dr. Kahan adds.
Dr. Kahan also warns of the human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus that is a risk factor for cervical cancer. HPV can be detected through Pap tests, which is another important reason to be screened regularly. Because of the prevalence of HPV, it's important that all girls ages 10 to 12 get vaccinated against it. The vaccine itself is administered in three inoculations over six months.
Talk to your pediatrician to determine what's right for you and your daughter.