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OBGYN – At What Age Do I Need a Cervical Cancer Screening?
Cervical cancer screenings are a routine part of regular visits to an OBGYN. The most common method of checking for the presence of cancerous cells in the uterus is a pap test or pap smear. This involves collecting a small sample of cells from the cervix or opening of the uterus by scraping with a small instrument. While the procedure can be a bit uncomfortable, it is generally swift and painless. Sometimes, the cells may also be tested for the presence of the HPV or human papillomavirus, which can lead to the development of cervical cancer. The frequency and need for these screenings vary by age and risk factor.
When cervical cancer screenings should begin
For most women, pap tests should begin at age 21. If the results are healthy, it is not necessary to test again for three years, due to how slowly cervical cancer progresses once it has developed. Once females reach the age of 30, additional screening for HPV should begin and be repeated every 5 years with healthy results. If a pap test and HPV test are performed at the same time with normal results, it may not be necessary to repeat either for five years. Once healthy women reach the age of 65, these screenings may no longer be required, especially in those without a history of cancer who have had a hysterectomy.
Factors that increase the chances of developing cervical cancer
Women who are considered to be at a higher risk for cervical cancer or HPV may need to start screenings at a younger age. An OBGYN may choose to schedule them more frequently as well, such as annually instead of every three years. Those most at risk include women who began sexual activity at a young age, those with multiple sexual partners and those who suffer from sexually transmitted infections.
In addition, women with a family history of cervical cancer, a weakened immune system or those who smoke also have a greater chance of contracting the disease. In the 1950s a drug called diethylstilbestrol or DES was sometimes prescribed to prevent miscarriage. Women whose mothers took the medication while pregnant are at a greater risk for cervical cancer as well.
While there are reasons for increased risk, many choices can help prevent the development of some types of cervical cancer. Maintaining good health and quitting smoking are excellent places to start. Sexually active women should practice safe sex by using appropriate protection, especially with multiple partners. For some women, the HPV vaccine may be a good preventative measure, but it is important to consult with an OBGYN about this option. For all women, annual exams and routine pap tests are critical in detecting cervical cancer early in order to increase the odds of effective treatment.
Routine screenings for cervical cancer and HPV can be life-saving for many women. It is important to visit an OBGYN every year for an exam and to keep up with a routine pap test and HPV screening schedule. In addition to regular evaluation, women should promptly report any new or changing symptoms, especially vaginal pain, to their health care professional.
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