A cervical cancer screening, such as a Pap or human papillomavirus (HPV) test, may not be high on your to-do list. And with last year’s subsequent shutdowns of in-person appointments for routine health care, you had even more reason to put off this potentially lifesaving screening.
“But the Pap test is one of the most remarkable cancer screening tools we have,” shares Kristen Starbuck, MD, gynecologic oncologist at Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University. “It can save your life by catching abnormal cells early before they progress to cancer. It’s an easy test to have and keeps you healthy.”
If you’re still not convinced, consider these five reasons why the time is now to make your next appointment.
1. Cervical Cancer Screenings Save Lives
Research is clear: The Pap test has reduced the number of new cases of cervical cancer, and the number of deaths from cervical cancer, since 1950. Studies have also found that death from cervical cancer is rare among women younger than 30 and even in women of any age who have regular cervical cancer screenings. However, it’s not always a level playing field.
Black women still have a slightly higher rate of death from cervical cancer than white women.
“The Pap, in combination with the HPV test, is one of the most important tools we have to combat cervical cancer,” Dr. Starbuck says. “As a health care institution, we also need to continue the work of addressing health inequities to ensure no person is at a higher risk of disease based on their race, ethnicity or socioeconomic background.”
2. Cervical Cancer Screenings Identify Cancer in its Early Stages
Cervical cancer screenings allow doctors to find suspicious cells on the cervix or signs that you may be at risk of developing cervical cancer. These cells can be removed to prevent cancer from developing. Additionally, when any type of cancer is identified and diagnosed early, it often leads to a better outcome. Pap and HPV tests can identify cervical cancer before it spreads to other parts of the body.
3. You Don’t Need a Cervical Cancer Screening Every Year
Cervical cancer grows slowly. Many young women who have cervical dysplasia or an active HPV infection can clear the infection on their own, meaning there is sometimes no need for additional treatment. Because of that, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology (ACOG) along with many other public health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommend the following cervical cancer screenings:
- Women ages 21 to 29 are encouraged to have a Pap test every three years.
- Women ages 25 to 29 can consider HPV testing every three years, but officials recommend a Pap test because HPV infections often go away on their own. Additional testing can lead to unnecessary and uncomfortable procedures.
- Women ages 30 to 65 have three options for cervical cancer screenings:
- Pap and HPV test – every five years (co-testing)
- Pap test – every three years
- HPV test – every five years
“These recommendations allow women to make the best choice based on their own personal history or preferences,” explains Dr. Starbuck. “Each option is based on solid scientific evidence. Your doctor can help you decide which is the best approach for you.”
Your doctor may also recommend more frequent testing if you have a history of abnormal Pap or HPV results or are high risk for developing cervical cancer.
4. Screenings are Fast and Painless
The Pap and HPV tests only take a few minutes.
“The tests are easy and painless,” reassures Dr. Starbuck. “Your doctor and care team are there to ease any fears you have and keep you distracted. It’s over before you know it and you’ll have the peace of mind that you’re healthy.”
Typically, results are back within one to three weeks. Your doctor’s office will call you to explain your results and, if necessary, schedule any follow-up appointments.
5. Screenings Give You the Chance to Connect with Your Doctor
Regular doctor visits give you an opportunity to share any changes to your health or new goals you have for your physical or mental health. In fact, even though you may not need a Pap or HPV test every year, you should still schedule an annual appointment with your primary care doctor and gynecologist.
“An annual check-up is really a ‘check-in’,” says Dr. Starbuck. “Your doctor can recommend any additional tests or screenings you may need, like a mammogram or blood work, and you can bring up any changes to your own health or in your family. It’s the perfect opportunity to get the support, encouragement and resources you need to stay on track with your personal goals.”
Whether it’s time for a cervical cancer screening, mammogram, colonoscopy, or just time for a wellness exam, make the time today to schedule an appointment to see your primary care provider.
About Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University
Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University is Georgia’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, which gives you access to the latest evidence-based care and clinical trials. Our experienced team sees more than 17,000 patients each year and delivers comprehensive care to every individual. At Winship, we provide more than state-of-the-art therapy. We also offer cancer prevention, treatment, survivorship and support programs to all who have been affected by cancer.