Guidelines for keeping your cervix healthy might have changed since your last visit to the gyno. Here’s what’s recommended:
Call your local health center to find out if you’re due for a Pap test.
- Your first Pap test at age 21 (no matter what age you start having sex)
- A Pap test every three years
Screening tests can find abnormal cells so they can be treated before they turn into cancer.
- The Pap test looks for changes in cells on the cervix that could turn into cancer if left untreated.
- The human papillomavirus (HPV) test looks for the virus that causes these cell changes.
The only cancer the Pap test screens for is cervical.
HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer. HPV is a very common virus, passed from one person to another during sex. Most people get it, but it usually goes away on its own. If HPV doesn’t go away, it can cause cancer.
Most women don’t need a Pap test every year!
Have your first Pap test when you’re 21. If your test results are normal, you can wait 3 years for your next Pap test. HPV tests aren’t recommended for screening women under 30.
When you turn 30, you have a choice:
- If your test results are normal, get a Pap test every 3 years. OR
- Get both a Pap test and an HPV test every 5 years.
You can stop getting screened if:
- You’re older than 65 and have had normal Pap test results for many years.
- Your cervix was removed during surgery for a non-cancerous condition like fibroids.
The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus (womb) that connects the uterus to the vagina (birth canal). A diagram of the female reproductive system shows the ovaries, Fallopian tubes, cervix, uterus, vagina, and vulva.
(Graphic: Kim Ducharme. Originally posted at theworld.org/cancer
Almost two decades ago, a doctor named Surendra S. Shastri was put in charge of preventative oncology at Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, India. One of his biggest jobs: to figure out how to cut the toll from cervical cancer, which kills 200,000 women a year in the developing world but is rare in developed countries.
“We don’t have the kind of laboratories or the kind of trained manpower needed for having a Pap smear. The Pap smear has succeeded in the countries where it has because of good quality control and frequency of screening,” Shastri says. He needed something far cheaper. The idea that he and others hit upon was to steal a step from from the procedure that follows a suspicious Pap smear. Doctors pour acetic acid – basically a sterile vinegar solution – onto the cervix and look at it under a magnifier. Cancer and precancer cells have less of the gooey cytoplasm than healthy cervix, and the acetic acid makes them actually turn white after just a minute. The normal cells remain a healthy pink.
Shastri skipped the magnifier and the doctor, and decided to train the same health care workers who give immunizations and other basic preventative measures to apply an acetic acid solution in the field. In 1998, he obtained funding from the National Cancer Institute, one of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, to conduct a fifteen-year clinical trial comparing using the vinegar screen once every two years to not screening in 150,000 women. The results are being presented today here at the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology. The vinegar test reduced the rate of cervical cancer death from 16.2 women per 100,000 to 11.1 women per 100,000, a 31% reduction.
Cervical cancer takes its greatest toll in the countries whose economies and health systems are poorest.
Women in those places are less likely than those in rich countries to get regular Pap tests to detect the cancers when it can be treated effectively.
Of the 275,000 women who die of cervical cancer each year, more than 85 percent, or at least 234,000, are in low-income countries.
But a vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer could go a long way toward lowering the risk in those less developed countries. Problem is, the shots are pretty expensive.
In the U.S., vaccines against human papillomavirus the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention $100 or more per shot. Private buyers in the U.S. pay even more. Three doses are recommended.
Now, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, makers of the HPV vaccines Gardasil and Cervarix, respectively, have agreed to lower the prices for their vaccines to less than $5 a shot.
Until now, the best price available to public sector buyers was $13, according to the , which brokered the deal.
(From Shots: Health News from NPR)
Lift your Skirt for a Pap Smear
The Singapore Cancer Society raises awareness for cervical cancer and invites Singapore women to free pap smear screenings in May 2013. Each year, 200 women are newly diagnosed with the preventable disease and 70 die from it.
Cervical Cancer Screening in Zambia. HIV positive women are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer, so finding low cost, effective screening methods like the acetic acid (vinegar) swab are important. This blog has previously posted on a similar program in Botswana.
Cervical Cancer’s Toll in the Developing World
Cervical cancer, which is largely preventable and treatable, is the third most common cancer in women around the world. Around 275,000 women die each year from the disease and nearly 90% of these deaths occur in the developing world.
(From The American Cancer Society)