Cervical cancer impacts more than 13,000 people in the United States each year. It once was a leading cause of cancer deaths among women, but death rates have decreased significantly thanks to improved screening and prevention methods. Still, about 4,000 people die from cervical cancer annually, so it’s crucial for patients to understand risk factors and prevention strategies.
To shed light on these issues, we spoke with Dr. Andrew Koo, a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist at CU Medicine Obstetrics and Gynecology - Highlands Ranch. Dr. Koo has extensive expertise in women’s reproductive health, including cervical cancer prevention.
Cervical Cancer Prevention
“Cervical cancer is a very preventable cancer that we see in patients,” explains Dr. Koo.
The main ways people can help prevent cervical cancer are through regular screenings, HPV vaccination, abstaining from smoking and safe sexual practices. Screening tests like Papanicolaou smears, also known as a Pap smear, and HPV tests allow precancerous changes in the cervix to be identified early when they are easier to treat.
HPV vaccination defends against the strains of human papillomavirus that cause the majority of cervical cancers.
Avoiding tobacco use also lowers risk, as smoking is linked with precancerous cervical changes.
Additionally, using condoms during sex can help reduce HPV transmission.
Screening Tools for Cervical Cancer Prevention
Regular screenings allow doctors to detect abnormal cervical changes early, which is key for preventing the progression of cervical cancer. “Screenings for cervical cancer start at age 21 for anyone with a cervix,” explains Dr. Koo. This screening is done by having a pelvic exam and Pap smear performed. The American Society for Cervical Cancer Prevention recommends Pap smear testing between the ages of 21 and 65.
“If your Pap smear is normal and you are between the ages of 21 and 29, we recommend you get screened every 3 years,” explains Dr. Koo. “Starting at the age of 30 we add on testing for the human papillomavirus, also known as HPV. If your Pap smear and HPV tests are normal, the screening for cancer gets spaced out to five years.
“One thing to remember is that Pap smears are a screening tool. Having an abnormal Pap smear does not mean that you have cervical cancer, but it does mean that your doctor needs to do more investigation to prevent you from getting cervical cancer and to keep you healthy,” shares Dr. Koo.
Vaccination for Cervical Cancer Prevention
The HPV vaccine, also known as the Gardasil vaccine, is recommended by The American Cancer Society for preventing HPV-related cervical cancer. Both males and females can receive the vaccine up until age 45.
“We highly recommend patients get the HPV vaccine as it is one of the only vaccines that we know of that can prevent cancer,” shares Dr. Koo.
Ask Your Doctor
Reach out to your primary care physician or obstetrician-gynecologist to determine appropriate screening timelines and stay up to date on tests.
Health care providers can answer questions, address concerns and make sure patients understand what they can do to minimize cervical cancer risk. They can also guide those with abnormal results requiring follow-up procedures.
While cervical cancer remains an issue, the story of cervical cancer prevention is one of hope and progress through screening and vaccination advancement.
The CU Medicine Obstetrics and Gynecology - Highlands Ranch physicians and staff are dedicated to providing women with comprehensive gynecological and obstetrical care during every stage of life. Learn more here.