Did you know that cervical cancer used to be the leading terminal cancer among women in the United States? We have seen a 70% decrease in cervical cancer rates over the last 50 years, thanks to the introduction of the Pap test. According to the CDC, cervical cancer still accounts for a quarter of a million deaths annually. However, 85% occur in developing countries due to lack of screening and access to preventative care.
In the United States, we are fortunate enough to have access to cervical cancer screening with the Pap test and the capability to detect human papillomavirus (HPV). Almost all cases of cervical cancer are linked to persistent HPV infections. The Pap test has allowed us to detect an increased risk of developing cervical cancer in women of all ages.
The climate surrounding cervical cancer screening is shifting toward a “less is more” approach. Historically, many women associate their annual exam with getting a Pap test. We now know that cervical cancer screening isn’t necessary every year for the majority of healthy women. Due to its sensitivity and our increasing knowledge about the progression of cervical cancer, annual Pap tests may create false alarms that needlessly subject women to painful follow-up tests. Evidence based research is finding that we can actually detect precursors to cervical cancer too soon. Most cervical cancers progress slowly and some of these precancerous cells will go away without medical treatment. Cervical cancer’s slow progression has allowed us to now recommend less frequent screening without compromising health outcomes. The idea is to improve health by avoiding unnecessary procedures and painful biopsies that may be harmful.
According to the American Cancer Society, Pap tests should begin at age 21 and be offered every three years for low risk, healthy women. At ages 30 to 65, we recommend a Pap test every three years or every five years if women are HPV negative. A shift in the frequency of testing is a significant and promising change in the health care environment that opposes the “more is better” mind-set. By understanding your risk and current recommendations, WBWC hopes to empower you to navigate your own health care. Our Birth Center offers cervical cancer screening and the time to discuss your individual screening needs during wellness appointments.
Always love your body, especially your cervix. But, maybe not every year.