January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and there is no time like this to highlight this vital component of women’s health.
Cervical cancer was historically one of the leading causes of cancer death among women nationally. However, over the past 30 years, the number of cases and deaths have decreased by half thanks to screenings, early vaccinations and other preventive measures.
Fighting back against this disease starts with each of us getting intentional about our own health. Here are some of the most common questions women have about cervical cancer prevention:
How do screens work?
There are 3 ways you can be screened for cervical cancer:
- Pap Test: looks for abnormal cells in the cervix.
- HPV Test: looks for an infection with the types of human papillomavirus that can be tied to cervical cancer.
- Co-testing: having a Pap test along with an HPV test.
Each screening method collects samples of the cells from the cervix which are sent to outside labs for testing. This testing further confirms a diagnosis.
How often should I get screened?
Cervical cancer screening guidelines shift and evolve over the years as we learn more about combating the disease. Here are the most up-to-date guidelines published by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Start by identifying your age group:
Younger than 21:
- You do not need screening.
21 to 29:
- Have a Pap test alone every 3 years.
- HPV testing alone can be considered for women who are 25 to 29, but Pap tests are preferred.
30 to 65:
- Option 1: Have a Pap test and an HPV test (co-testing) every 5 years.
- Option 2: Have a Pap test alone every 3 years.
- Have an HPV test alone every 5 years.
65 or older:
You do not need screening if:
- You have no history of cervical changes and either three negative Pap test results in a row, two negative HPV tests in a row, or two negative co-test results in a row within the past 10 years.
- The most recent test should have been performed within the past 3 or 5 years, depending on the type of test.
Is there anything else I should know?
It’s important to remember that these are just general guidelines, and unique exceptions may apply. Please always refer to your primary care physician’s screening recommendations, as they will be the most applicable to your unique health circumstances.
In the off years of your cervical cancer screenings, it is still vital to regularly visit your OB/GYN for any of your women’s health needs. Through birth control counseling, family planning, vaccinations or reproductive health concerns—your OB/GYN is an advocate and partner in your health journey.
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