Fifty to seventy-five years ago, cervical cancer was the number one cause of cancer death in women. However, the development and implementation of pap smears as a screening method has made cervical cancer easy to discover and treat. And the fact that cervical cancer usually doesn’t present with distinct symptoms, further emphasizes the importance of screening.
The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the leading cause of cervical cancer, and HPV vaccines are available to persons as young as nine but should be given before the individual becomes sexually active. Males and females can transmit the disease, and different strains can cause oral cancer, cervical cancer, and genital warts. It is not a mandatory vaccine but is the best way to prevent cervical cancer in women.
It is recommended for women to begin getting pap smears at age 21, and keep receiving them every three years until the age of 30. After 30 years of age, women can choose to get a pap smear every five years as long as that pap smear is tested for HPV, and there is no history of abnormal pap smears or HPV. If you have a hysterectomy for reasons other than cancer, you may not need to continue getting screenings. After the age of 65, it is okay for women to stop getting pap smears, but continue to get regular pelvic exams, unless they are still sexually active with new partners. Depending on your history, your doctor can advise you as to what best fits your situation.
Because pap smears are such an important screening tool, Cone Health offers free screenings for individuals without insurance or access to a provider throughout the year. The next free screening takes place on February 13, but check the Cone Health website for an entire list of dates. Cone Health also participates in the North Carolina Breast & Cervical Cancer Control program (BCCCP). This program is available for women 40-64 years old that are underinsured or uninsured, and below a certain income level. It provides free or low-cost breast and cervical cancer screenings and follow-up services to eligible women in our region. To register for an upcoming screening call (336) 832-8000 or to make an appointment with the BCCCP call (336) 832-0628.
About the Author
Christine Brannock, RN, BS, OCN is the Oncology Outreach Manager at Cone Health Cancer Center