In observance of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, we asked Robert Kim, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist at The Queen's Medical Center, to answer some frequently asked questions about cervical cancer and human papillomavirus, a common virus that can cause cancer, including cervical cancer.
What are some risk factors for cervical cancer?
The biggest risk factors are poor access to care or not seeing your primary care provider regularly. A Pap smear can detect changes in the cervix caused by HPV and find cervical cancer early when it's easier to treat. That’s why missing annual checkups with your ob-gyn or PCP is a risk factor. Another risk factor for cervical cancer is smoking.
What are the best ways to reduce this risk?
Make an appointment to see your ob-gyn, family practitioner, or primary care provider. Get screened appropriately, whether it’s a Pap smear, HPV test, or an HPV/Pap cotest. And if you’re a smoker, quit smoking. The last thing is getting immunized. The HPV vaccine is available for women between 9 and 45 years old.
Who should get screened for cervical cancer? When should screenings start and how frequently?
All women should get screened. The guidelines suggest screenings start around age 21. In the past, Pap smears were recommended yearly, but not anymore. However, you should still see your provider annually and they'll let you know what’s appropriate for you. Though it depends on a number of factors, Pap smears are typically recommended every three to five years.
What are some symptoms of cervical cancer?
The primary symptoms include:
- Pain. This includes pelvic pain or pain during intercourse.
- Bleeding. Abnormal bleeding between menstrual cycles and bleeding after intercourse.
How prevalent is cervical cancer and how treatable is it?
Worldwide, cervical cancer is considered one of the most-common cancers in women and is also a leading cause of death for women. Here in the U.S., where we generally have good access to health care providers and routine screening, cervical cancer is in the top 15 cancers for women.
First and foremost, this is a preventable cancer! If you catch it early, it's very treatable. And that's why we stress the importance of seeing your provider and getting screened and immunized.
Check out this video with Dr. Kim sharing insights about cervical cancer and HPV. Plus, hear from HMSA Medical Director Rupal Gohil, M.D., about the importance of regular appointments with your doctor for cervical cancer screening and immunization.