Cervical cancer is the fourth most frequent cancer in women. But the incidence of it has steadily decreased in the U.S. Why? The CDC says it’s largely due to widespread screening.
So, we asked Dr. Edwin Thorpe, an OB-GYN and medical director for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, to tell us what we need to know about cervical cancer and screening for it.
WellTuned: What causes this type of cancer and is it preventable?
Dr. Thorpe: The main cause of cervical cancer is infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), which is preventable with the HPV vaccine. The mortality rate has decreased over the years because we’ve done a much better job getting information out on the need for preventive screenings like the Pap test, and improved access to this care.
WT: What does the Pap test look for?
Dr. Thorpe: There are two components: cytology, the microscopic examination of the cervical cells, and testing for the presence of high risk HPV types.
WT: When should women start having Pap tests?
Dr. Thorpe: Most experts agree that pap tests should begin by age 21.
WT: When are women more likely to develop this type of cancer?
Dr. Thorpe: The peak age is 47, but almost half of women with invasive cervical cancer are younger than 35 at diagnosis. Women over 65 account for 10% of cervical cancer diagnoses.
WT: What about women outside of this age group?
Dr. Thorpe: All women should aware of the recommended screening guidelines and follow them. And it’s also important to know that the HPV vaccine is recommended for girls and boys, to prevent HPV infection.
WT: How do you know how often you need to be tested?
Dr. Thorpe: There are recommended guidelines for screening intervals. Women should discuss this with their health care provider to determine the process that is most appropriate
Dr. Thorpe recommends discussing these recommended screenings with your doctor:
- Pap test (cervical cytology) – every three years for women 21-64
- Pap test and human papilloma virus (HPV) co-testing – every five years for women 30-64
- Primary HPV testing – every five years for women 30-64
Find out how much you know about cervical cancer by taking the CDC’s cervical cancer quiz.