Cervical cancer screening and protection
Dr. Shana Wingo, MD, is a gynecologic oncologist at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. For more information on this topic, talk with your doctor or call Dr. Wingo’s office at (888) 972-2873 (CURE).
Question: What are the best ways to protect myself from cervical cancer?
Answer: Thankfully, recent medical advancements have given women several options to better protect themselves against cervical cancer. Those options include a vaccine and a proven screening test.
The human papilloma virus, or HPV, is a very common sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer. HPV has many different subtypes, but two of them are considered responsible for most cervical cancers. Gardasil is a vaccine that was introduced recently which protects against these subtypes.
The Gardasil vaccine is recommended for both males and females who are 9 to 26 years old. Research has shown the vaccine can prevent cervical cancer and a pre-cancerous condition called cervical dysplasia. However, Gardasil is only effective for certain subtypes of HPV and does not defend against other sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy.
Getting a regular screening test called a Pap test is another way for women to protect themselves from cervical cancer. Women ages 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every three years, even if they have been vaccinated for HPV. Women in their 30s should continue having Pap tests every three years until age 65, though women who want to extend the time between screenings can choose a combination of a Pap test and HPV test every five years. Women over 65 do not typically need a Pap test, nor do women who have had their cervix removed through hysterectomy.
Every patient is different, so a doctor can best determine if the Gardasil vaccine is appropriate and can establish a cervical cancer screening schedule based on a patient’s age and health history. Even if a woman is not due for a Pap test, she should still see her doctor for annual breast and pelvic exams and if any new symptoms arise.