Ladies, when was the last time you visited your gynecologist? If it was more than three years ago, then it is time to set another appointment. In honor of the National Cervical Health Awareness Month, I beg you to take good care of yourself and your cervix.
Here are some of the few reasons why you should visit your gynecologist regularly:
- In the US, about 10,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year.
- Yearly, cervical cancer kills about 3,700 women in the USA.
- Globally, cervical cancer kills over 250,000 women each year.
However, nobody has to die from cervical cancer. It is a preventable and treatable disease.
The key to stopping cervical cancer on its tracks is early screening and detection. And the earlier, the better. Screening is checking for a disease even in the absence of symptoms. Early detection is catching a disease at the earliest stage possible.
The standard screening and detection test for abnormalities in the cervix is the Pap (Papanicolaou) test which can be performed during routine gynecological check ups. In the US, the routine use of Pap test has significantly decreased mortalities due to cervical cancer – by over 70% during the last 50 years. Unfortunately, this is not the case in less developed countries where cases account for 85% of all cervical cancer.
Now, if you believe that cervical cancer can only affect young, sexually active women, and therefore a Pap test is not for you, then think again.
According to the National Institutes of Health
Current general guidelines recommend that women have a Pap test at least once every 3 years, beginning about 3 years after they begin to have sexual intercourse, but no later than age 21. Experts recommend waiting about 3 years after the start of sexual activity to avoid overtreatment for common, temporary abnormal changes. It is safe to wait 3 years, because cervical cancer usually develops slowly. Cervical cancer is extremely rare in women under age 25.
Women ages 65 to 70 who have had at least three normal Pap tests and no abnormal Pap tests in the last 10 years may decide, after talking with their clinician, to stop having Pap tests. Women who have had a hysterectomy (surgery to remove the uterus and cervix) do not need to have a Pap test, unless the surgery was done as a treatment for precancer or cancer.
Also, take note: Having shots against the human papilloma virus (HPV) does not mean that you are immune to cervical cancer. It does reduce your risks but the vaccine is not substitute for cervical cancer screenings.
January has been designated by the US Congress as the National Cervical Health Awareness Month. To step up on awareness, free screenings are being offered in some part of the US. According to the NCCC, the following county health departments offer free cervical cancer screenings:
- Fulton County Medical Center, PA
- Garrett County Health Department, MD
- Berkeley County Health Department, WV
- Jefferson County Health Department, WV
- Frederick County Health Department, MD
- Allegany County Health Department, MD
- Morgan County Health Department, WV
- Summit Health – Chambersburg and Waynesboro Hospitals, PA
- Washington County Health Department, MD