Natalie Herrera, PA-C, Cucamonga Valley Medical Group
By Natalie Herrera, PA-C
As the calendar turns another page and a new year begins, women’s health remains an important issue.
As in past years, the outset of 2022 presents an opportunity to implement a time-tested approach to good women’s health.
Screening for cervical cancer is an important part of overall wellness and should include routine Papanicolaou (Pap) smears, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) co-testing, and if applicable, vaccination against HPV in adolescence.
The cervix is a ring of tissue at the base of the uterus, where it meets the vagina.
HPV is a virus that is transmitted during sexual intercourse and may invade cervical tissues.
The most common cause of cervical cancer and precancerous lesions are cellular changes associated with HPV infection.
For this reason, we recommend HPV vaccination begin as early as age 9 and up to 18 years.
Screening should begin at age 21 for all people with a cervix, regardless of sexual activity status. During your wellness visit, screening intervals will be recommended to you by your provider based on age, personal history, vaccination status and family history.
In the past, Pap smears had been recommended annually. However, evidence has shown that this frequency of testing is redundant and hasn’t served to improve detection rates when compared to testing every 3-to-5 years, which we now recommend.
If your cervical cancer screening study is normal, you will be advised to follow up in 3-to-5 years for repeat testing.
If your result is abnormal, you may be referred to a specialist for a biopsy.
Once we reach age 65, routine screening is discontinued, except in cases where precancers, cancers or other abnormalities were found over lifetime testing.
For those without a cervix, routine testing is usually not recommended unless the cervix and uterus were removed for reasons pertaining to cancer or precancer.
Because of the availability of screening and emphasis on prevention, cervical cancer rates and deaths due to the disease are declining in developed countries.
To ensure prevention and early detection of this highly preventable cancer, make wellness visits and cervical cancer screening a health priority for you and your loved ones.