The #1 Way to Protect Yourself from Cervical Cancer

January 2020

During Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, find out how you can prevent a diagnosis.

Getting regular check-ups is the best way to protect yourself from cervical cancer.

In honor of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, there’s some good news you should know: the incidence of cervical cancer is going down every year. And the reason for the decline is because of the testing, screening, and preventative tools we’re using! We chatted with BDWH co-founder Dr. Ken Ostermann to learn more about modern advancements against cervical cancer and how the best thing you can do to protect yourself is schedule regular screenings.

How we can stop cervical cancer (before it’s cancer)

Pap smears have been around for a while, but they’re incredibly effective cervical cancer screening tools, especially when combined with other tests. The latest developments in screening procedures allow clinicians to detect and treat precancer cells before they develop into cancer. 

“The Pap is a useful screening test,” explains Dr. Ostermann. “If the cells are abnormal when the tests come back, then colposcopy is used to get even more information. This procedure involves a microscope that allows us to see abnormal cells and enables us to perform directed biopsies. Those biopsied cells go to pathology, and those can be graded into normal, precancer, or cancer.” From there, precancerous cells can be treated with techniques that prevent them from turning into cancer. 

The role of HPV vaccines

For some time, we didn’t know the cause of cervical cancer. Now, we’ve discovered that most cases of cervical cancer are because of the HPV virus, one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. Many people who get HPV don’t have a problem because the immune system takes care of the infection. If it’s not suppressed, the virus can sometimes cause cells to mutate and become precancerous and cancerous. This connection between HPV and cervical cancer means that a critical part of cervical cancer prevention is protecting yourself from HPV, the cause of most cervical cancers. 

Fortunately, there’s an HPV vaccine called Gardasil. Two doses are recommended at ages 11-12, because as Dr. Ostermann says, “The idea is that if we’re giving it to boys and girls between ages 9-12, we’ll be able to prevent those major viruses from causing cancers. We can shut it off before it even starts.” This vaccine is important because women can be exposed to the virus while they’re young but may not develop cancer from it until decades later. However, currently only half of U.S. teenagers have been vaccinated against HPV. The science is there, but there’s still work that needs to be done to achieve widespread adoption.

If you’re an adult who hasn’t been vaccinated yet, ask your provider if it’s right for you. This vaccine is now approved for use for up to age 45 (they get three vaccines instead of two). And it protects against nine viral subtypes, mainly targeting the nasty ones that can develop into hard-to-treat advanced stages of cervical cancer.

The importance of annual screenings

Yearly screenings are essential for protecting yourself from cervical cancer because most experience no symptoms until it’s in an advanced stage. Visiting your women’s health provider for regular exams is the only reliable way to catch cervical cancer before it even starts.

While Pap smears may not be a favorite, they go quickly, and these tests are a hero on the battlefield against cervical cancer. Because Paps are so effective in rooting out signs of precancer, it’s very rare for women to develop undetected cervical cancer if they’re getting regular screenings. Most diagnoses happen to women who have fallen out of the screening process.

Scheduling annual appointments is your best guarantee against cervical cancer, and there are other good reasons to keep up with preventative health visits too. It’s useful to ask your women’s health provider whether they screen only for abnormal cells, or also for the HPV virus because looking for both is ideal.

“My message to women is just to go get the appropriate screening,” says Dr. Ostermann. If you live in the Beaver Dam area, contact us to schedule your women’s health screening to help protect yourself from cervical cancer. During your appointment, you can discuss your risk factors and options to decide the best Pap screening schedule for you. Even if you and your provider decide that a Pap may not be necessary this year, there are other components to a yearly visit that benefit your health. Learn more about the reasons to schedule an annual wellness exam (even if you’re healthy) on our blog.

If you have health insurance through the Marketplace, cervical cancer screenings and other preventative measures are covered. Start the new year off right by marking your calendar for a well-woman visit!

Contact our doctors, midwives, and women’s health team online or call 920.885.6090 to schedule an annual checkup or to discuss your health concerns.

This is a public forum, by which BDWH provides general information to patients and prospective patients. You should not post any personal or identifying information on this Blog. The information that appears on this Blog does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for a consultation with a Healthcare Professional.

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