The number of women diagnosed with cervical cancer each year is much lower than that for breast cancer. But even one death from this often preventable disease would be too many. Early detection makes a big difference. Locally, the Cancer Services Program of the Finger Lakes Region can connect you with resources that are close to work or home, including free cervical cancer screenings.
Cervical cancer occurs in the lower opening of the uterus that connects the vagina (or birth canal) to the uterus (or womb). It usually starts with abnormal cell changes in the lining of cervix. Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by human papillomaviruses (HPV)—HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for about 70% of all cases. HPV infections are the most commonly transmitted sexual infections. It is estimated that more than 80% of sexually active men and women will be infected with at least one type of HPV in their lifetimes. Cells in the cervix gradually develop pre-cancerous changes. However, with proper screening, these changes can be identified and treated before turning into cancer.
While a pelvic exam is important, it can’t detect cervical cancer in its early stages. For that, you need to have a Pap test, which is done at the same time as your pelvic exam. In a Pap test, a few cells from the cervix are taken and, in a lab, looked at under a microscope.
By screening with the Pap test, a healthcare provider can find abnormal cells that may develop into cervical cancer and remove them. So screening with a Pap test could actually prevent cancer. It can also detect cancer early when it is most treatable. About 90% of women whose cervical cancer was detected by a Pap test will survive.
Women ages 21 to 29 years should get a Pap test every 1-3 years, depending on age and prior test results. And this is important: testing should continue beyond the child-bearing years. Cancer doesn’t care what age you are.
A Pap test can be done in your doctor’s office or clinic. If you don’t have a healthcare provider who can do your Pap test, there are resources available. Simply contact Cancer Services Program of the Finger Lakes Region at 585-224-3070. Outside of Monroe County? Call 1-877-803-8070.
Knowing your personal health history helps healthcare providers better understand your potential risk for cervical cancer. By completing this questionnaire prior to your visit, you will be able to help them determine the best screening schedule for you. Simply download, print, complete, and bring it with you to your appointment.