Cervical cancer is the most easily detectable female cancer. A PAP test (or PAP smear) is the screening used to detect changes within the cervix. If left undetected these can progress to cancer.
A PAP is recommended for all women between 21 and 65 years old. If your PAP test results are normal, you can wait three years before having another. If you are 30 years old or older, you can choose to be tested for the human papillomavirus (HPV) along with your routine PAP. If your results are normal for both HPV and PAP, then your chance of getting cervical cancer in the next few years is very low, and you can wait five years before getting your next PAP. However, you should continue to see your doctor on a regular basis for checkups.
If you have received the HPV vaccination, you should continue to be screened regularly by your doctor.
If you are older than 65, have had your cervix removed as part of a total hysterectomy for non-cancerous conditions (such as fibroids), you may not have to have a PAP again, which should be discussed with your doctor.
You are increasing your risk for cervical cancer if:
You engage in high-risk sexual behavior, including:
Early age at onset of sexual activity
More than 12 sexual partners
Contraction of other sexually transmitted diseases
Men whose previous partner had cervical cancer
Utilizing non-barrier methods of contraception:
Oral contraceptives have been associated with an increased incidence of adenocarcinoma.
Diaphragms and condoms offer modest protection from HPV.
Smoking is the only independent risk, due to the ability of cigarette smoke compounds to present in cervical mucus.
Most men and women acquire a genital HPV infection within a few years of the onset of sexual activity. It is now believed in sexually active individuals, infection with HPV at some time is universal. However, many HPV infections last only a few weeks, most are cleared within a few months and some persist for as long as 36 months. Recently, it has been found that previous studies underestimated the cumulative incidence of the disease.
Prevention is paramount. Supplements such as mixed carotenoids, Vitamin C, and folic acid may prevent the progression of cervical dysplasia to cancer. Additional preventative measures such as abstinence of tobacco, if engaging in sexual activity limit the number of sexual partners, and use a barrier method such as condoms or diaphragm. If you are taking immunosuppressive medications, let your doctor know as you may require more vigorous screening than that outlined above. The HPV vaccine does not prevent all types of cervical cancer, it is important that if you have been vaccinated you still have routine PAP tests. Family history is also important, if you have a sister(s) with cervical cancer tell your doctor as some patients are genetic more sensitive to HPV.
–Dr. Suzanne McMurry
Disclaimer: This information does not intend to be medical advice. If you have questions about the above information please schedule an appointment with your naturopathic doctor.