Michigan Association of Health Plans

MyMichigan Health: The importance of cervical cancer screenings

This article appeared in the Midland Daily News. Read more here

Each year in the United States, approximately 14,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, a great time to discuss necessary cervical cancer screenings and their importance in helping to detect cervical precancer or cancer as early as possible.

Q. Who should be screened for cervical cancer?

A. Women should be screened regularly beginning at age 21. Research has shown that cervical cancer screening before this age doesn’t reduce the rate of cervical cancer and can lead to unnecessary treatment.

Q. What does cervical cancer screening look like?

A. There are two types of cervical cancer screening, a Pap test and a human papillomavirus (HPV) test. Your first Pap test should be at age 21. If the test result is normal, you can wait three years before you need another Pap test. If you are over the age of 30, a Pap test is also recommended and can be repeated every three years if the test results are normal. Those over age 30 may also have an HPV test in addition to the Pap test. If both the HPV and Pap test results are normal, one can continue screening with an HPV and Pap test together every five years.

Q. Why is cervical cancer screening important?

A. Cervical cancer screening saves lives. According to the American College of Gynecologists, it generally takes three to seven years for high-grade changes in cervical cells to become cancer. Getting regularly screened for cervical cancer can help detect these changes before they become cancer. In fact, over the last 30 years, the number of cervical cancer cases and deaths in the United States has decreased by half, mainly as a result of women getting regular cervical cancer screening.

Q. Is there anything else I can do to protect myself from cervical cancer?

A. Yes. The HPV vaccine is an important tool in preventing HPV infections that can cause cancer. However, the HPV vaccine does not protect against all of the types of HPV that can cause cancer, so even if you have been vaccinated against HPV, regular cervical cancer screening is still important. The HPV vaccine can be given beginning at age 9, and is recommended for everyone through age 26.

Q. What does it mean if I have an abnormal test result after cervical cancer screening?

A. An abnormal test result does not mean that you have cancer. If you have an abnormal screening test result, additional testing will likely be needed to determine what type of cervical cell changes are occurring and whether or not further treatment is needed.

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