Did you know cervical cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancers in women? Cervical cancer forms when there are abnormal cell changes in a woman’s cervix that slowly develop over time. Fortunately, early signs of cervical cancer called “cervical dysplasia” can be easily detected through Pap screenings.1
In fact, since the mid-1970s, cervical cancer deaths have decreased significantly due in part to increased Pap tests.2 While regular screenings are the most important step to cervical cancer prevention (which you will learn more about), there are other steps women should consider to aid in prevention and early detection. Check them out below.
Tip 1 (and most important): Get routine screenings.
One of the most important ways you can prevent cervical cancer is to get regular human papillomavirus (HPV) and Pap tests. Both tests are used in cervical cancer screenings. Deaths from cervical cancer in the U.S. continue to decline by two percent every year due to widespread cervical cancer testing.9
Here is what The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends by age group:
- 21 to 29 years: Regular cervical cancer screenings every three years with cervical cytology alone
- 30 to 65 years: Regular cervical cancer screenings every three years with cervical cytology alone, every 5 years with high-risk HPV testing alone, or every 5 years with HPV testing in combination with cytology (also known as co-testing).
Compass Rose Health Plan members can earn 100 wellness reward points for completing their cervical cancer screening.
Tip 2: Follow up on abnormal screenings.
The first step in finding cervical cancer is often an abnormal Pap test result.3 If your screening does lead to an abnormal result, further testing may be done, which can diagnose cervical cancer.
Some common tests for women who do have symptoms or an abnormal Pap test include:3
- Medical history and physical exam: A doctor may speak to you about your personal and family medical history to determine your risk factors for cervical cancer. Additionally, your doctor may complete a physical exam, which can include checking your lymph nodes for signs of metastasis (or cancer spread).
- Colposcopy: A colposcopy is a test that allows your doctor to better see any abnormal areas in your cervix. If an abnormal area is seen, a biopsy may be done to determine whether the area is cancerous.
- Cervical biopsies: There are several types of biopsies that can be used to detect and diagnose cervical pre-cancers and cancers. Depending on your diagnosis, your doctor will recommend the best course of action.
If you think you are experiencing any signs of cervical cancer or have received an abnormal Pap test, consult your doctor for the best treatment plan.
Tip 3: Quit smoking.
Smoking can expose your entire body to cancer-causing chemicals — not just your lungs. According to the American Cancer Society, women who smoke are about twice as likely to get cervical cancer than non-smokers. In fact, harmful tobacco by-products have been found in the cervical mucus of women who smoke. Experts believe these substances can damage the DNA of cervical cells, contributing to the development of cervical cancer.4
If you need extra support on your journey to quit smoking, the Compass Rose Health Plan offers a FREE Tobacco Cessation Program provided by UMR that includes education, encouragement and counseling.
Tip 4: Get the HPV vaccine.
Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by HPV.5 Various strains of this sexually transmitted infection can survive in a small percentage of women, contributing to the process of cervical cells becoming cancer cells.6 Thankfully, there is a vaccine available for young people that protects against certain HPV infections that are most commonly linked to cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends both female and male children starting around age 11 get the HPV vaccination, which is a series of shots. While vaccination above the age of 26 is not recommended for everyone, there are some instances where your doctor may recommend it if you have not been vaccinated yet.8
Tip 5: Practice safe sex.
Because HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact with an infected area, exposure can be hard to avoid. That is why HPV is very common — about 80 percent of sexually active men and women are infected at some point in their lives.7
While condoms have not been proven to prevent HPV infection, condom use has been associated with a lower rate of cervical cancer.10 Limiting the number of sexual partners may also help prevent HPV infection, however, having sexual activity with even one person can put you at risk since it is so common.8
Getting regular screenings is the most important thing you can do to prevent cervical cancer. And we want to make it easy for you to stay healthy and detect any abnormalities early. That is why our health plan offers a FREE well-woman visit when seeing a network provider. Be sure to say you are coming in for a “well-woman visit” when you schedule your appointment. Plus, health plan members who complete their cervical cancer screening can earn 100 reward points through our Wellness Rewards program.
Need help finding an obstetrician-gynecologist office for your cervical cancer screening? Use our Find a Doctor tool to find one in your area that fits your needs.
Sources1 What Is Cervical Cancer? (2020, January). American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/about/what-is-cervical-cancer.html
2 Cervical Cancer Statistics (2020, January). Cancer.Net: https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/cervical-cancer/statistics
3 Work-Up of Abnormal Pap Test Results (2020, January) American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/screening-tests/abn-pap-work-up.html
4 Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer (2020, January) American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html
5 Preventing Cervical Cancer: The Development of HPV Vaccines (2016, December) National Cancer Institute: https://www.cancer.gov/research/progress/discovery/hpv-vaccines
6 Cervical Cancer (2019, July). Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cervical-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20352501
7 HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) (2018, September) Cleveland Clinic: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/11901-hpv-human-papilloma-virus
8 Can Cervical Cancer Be Prevented? (2020, January) American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/prevention.html
9 Cervical Cancer Prevention (2009, October) US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2762353/
10 What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Cervical Cancer? (2019, August) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/prevention.htm