CERVICAL CANCER, WHICH is almost always caused by high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV), is one of the most preventable—and treatable—cancers.
Most women’s immune systems are able to fight off the HPV infection before cancer can form. However, for those who do develop cancer, the majority of cervical cancers start with precancerous, or abnormal, changes to the cervix, which can easily be detected by a Pap test and then removed before they turn into cancer. These cervical cell changes often take years to develop into cancer. That’s why early detection is so important.
“Women of all ages can decrease their risk of developing cervical cancer by getting regular exams and Pap and high-risk HPV testing as recommended for their age group,” says Melissa Kyrimis, M.D., FACOG, board-certified OB-GYN with Summit Healthcare. “It’s also important for each woman to talk with her provider about her risk factors and develop a personalized prevention plan.”
Changing Pap Test Guidelines
In 2012, the American Cancer Society released new guidelines for Pap testing, which is used to detect cervical cell changes and precancers. One of the most notable changes was recommending that women who have no signs of cervical cancer only get a Pap test once every three years instead of once every year, which was the previous ACS recommendation.
“The new guidelines are based on many years of gathering data to help improve the healthcare of women,” says Melissa Kyrimis, MD, FACOG, board-certified OB-GYN with Summit Healthcare. “The new guidelines help practitioners avoid intervening too aggressively with invasive procedures in women who are at a low risk of developing cervical cancer.”
In addition to keeping up with routine exams and testing, there are other steps women can take to help prevent cervical cancer, including:
get the high-risk HPV vaccine
have regular pelvic and well-woman exams
limit the number of sexual partners
use condoms during sexual activity
What To Do After a Cervical Cancer Diagnosis
If you do receive a cervical cancer diagnosis, don’t panic. There is a myriad of treatment options available to stop it in its tracks, including:
Surgery is the most common treatment for early-stage cervical cancer. The choice of treatment will depend on various factors, including your age and general health, whether you have high-risk HPV, whether the cancer is new or recurrent, and how advanced the cancer is. Your doctor and cancer care team will develop a custom treatment plan for you and work with you step by step throughout the treatment process.