Cervical cancer is the fourth most frequent cancer in women, but did you know it is 100% preventable? In most cases, cervical cancer can be prevented through early detection and treatment of abnormal cell changes that occur in the cervix years before cervical cancer even develops.
However, there are few things that every girl should know to know on the safer side:
1. Cervical cancer is caused by the HPV virus
Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the infectious human papillomavirus. Strains of HPV which cause cancer are known as “high-risk types.”
HPV is passed from person to person during sexual activity. It is very common and most people who are sexually active will get an HPV infection at least once in their lifetime. HPV infections often cause no symptoms and most go away on their own. However, in women who get a high-risk infection it can last a long time and cause severe changes in cervical cells–which is likely to lead to cancer.
2. Regular screening can actually save you from cervical cancer
Cervical cancer screening is used to detect changes in the cells of the cervix that could lead to cancer. It usually takes three to seven years for high-grade changes in cervical cells to become cancer. Hence, screening can detect these changes before they turn into full-fledged cancer.
3. How is cervical cancer screening done?
Screening includes the Pap test and, for some women, an HPV test. Both tests use cells taken from the cervix.
Cells are removed with a brush or other sampling instrument and are put into a special liquid and sent to a laboratory for testing.
4. How often you get screened is also important
Women aged 21 to 29 years should have a Pap test every three years–though HPV testing is not recommended for them. Women aged 30 to 65 years should have a Pap test and an HPV test (co-testing) every five years. And yes, screening is important even if you’ve been vaccinated for extra protection against HPV.
5. Abnormal screening results don’t always mean you have cancer
Many women have abnormal cervical cancer screening results. That said, an abnormal result does not necessarily mean that you have cancer. Remember that cervical cell changes often go back to normal on their own. And if they do not, it often takes several years for even high-grade changes to become cancer. If you have an abnormal screening test result, additional testing will be required to detect cancer.
As with any lab test, cervical cancer screening results are not always accurate. Sometimes, the results show abnormal cells when the cells are normal. This is called a “false-positive” result. Screening also may not detect abnormal cells when they are present. This is called a “false-negative” result.
To help prevent false-negative or false-positive results, you should avoid douching, sexual intercourse and using vaginal medications or hygiene products for two days before your test. You should avoid cervical cancer screening when you are menstruating.
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