More than 13,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and more than 4,000 of them die, according to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition.

This disease is the fourth most common type of cancer for women worldwide. However, because it develops over time, it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer. 

The U.S. Congress has designated January as Cervical Cancer Awareness month to raise awareness of the prevalence of the disease and steps for prevention. Kenner Army Health Clinic is a proud supporter of the campaign and care providers here can help beneficiaries understand who is most susceptible and what steps should be taken for early detection. There are screening tests for cervical cancer and vaccines to prevent human papillomavirus, which is the main causes of the illness.

Being screened for cervical cancer means getting tested before experiencing actual symptoms.

Cervical cancer occurs in the cervix, which is the low, narrow part of the uterus that connects it to the vagina.  Abnormal cells in the cervix can turn into cancer if they are not found and treated. Certain types of HPV cause almost all cases of cervical cancer. It is also a contributor to genital warts. HPV is a common infection spread through sex.

Screening tests for cervical cancer include:

  • Pap tests; also called Pap smears
  • HPV (human papillomavirus) tests

How often should women get screened (tested)?

The answer to that question depends on how old individuals are and which screening tests they’re getting. Women between the ages of 21-29 should get screened with a Pap test every three years. Those between the ages of 30-65 have the following options:

  • Get screened every 3 years with a Pap test
  • Get screened every 5 years with an HPV test
  • Get screened every 5 years with both a Pap test and an HPV test

Talk with your doctor about which option is right for you. Some women also may need to get screened more often. For example, your doctor may recommend that you are screened more often if you have had abnormal test results in the past.

Women age 66 or older should ask their doctor if they need to continue screening for cervical cancer. 

The National Cancer Institute has information on the steps to take if you have an abnormal screening result. It’s important to note that an abnormal test does not necessarily mean the individual has cervical cancer. Most have early cell changes that can be monitored (since they often go away on their own) or treated early (to prevent problems later). Just continue with follow-up visits and tests or whatever treatment is prescribed by the health care provider.

Individuals can read more about this subject at www.cancer.gov/types/cervical/understanding-cervical-changes. Kenner beneficiaries who want to set up an appointment with their health care provider can call 1-866-533-5242.