January is a pivotal month for women's health, marking Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
Every year in Ohio, more black women die from cervical cancer than any other group of women in the state.
This global health event calls for attention to a disease that, according to the American Cancer Society, affects thousands each year yet remains highly preventable - through regular cervical cancer screening, treatment of abnormal areas of the cervix detected by screening (cervical precancer), and vaccination against the virus that contributes to the development of cervical cancer—the human papillomavirus (HPV).
The World Health Organization echoes this sentiment, emphasizing the crucial role of education in combating cervical cancer worldwide.
The Importance of Regular Cervical Cancer Screening: When & How
When you receive a cervical cancer screening, your provider will perform a pap test and when appropriate, an HPV test—the HPV test looks for the virus that can cause cervical precancer or cancer, and the Pap test (or Pap smear) searches for any changes of the cervix that could be precancer or cancer.
Advancements in Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines
The evolution of screening guidelines reflects advancements in our understanding of cervical cancer. Healthcare professionals now support a balanced screening approach tailored to age and health history. Regular cervical cancer screening remains a key part of cancer prevention, which includes Pap and HPV tests.
Both tests are typically completed in a provider’s office or clinic. During the Pap test, the doctor places a small instrument in the vagina, called a speculum. This helps the doctor examine the vagina and cervix and collect a few cells from the cervix utilizing a small swab or brush to test for precancer or cancer.
How often to get screened has evolved—in the past, we recommended screening every year, but now, the recommendation is every three to five years if your screening results are normal. Your healthcare provider can let you know how often you should get screened. Women without a cervix (previous hysterectomy) may not need any further screening; however, it is important to speak with your provider to ensure you no longer need screening.
Regardless of the screening interval, EVERY woman (person with a cervix) should start screening at the age of 21. Some people will need to be screened earlier because of certain health conditions.