Am I at Risk for Cervical Cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer is one of the most common causes of cancer death for women in America. This year in Louisiana, an estimated 230 new cases will be diagnosed. However, there is positive news. Over the last 30 years, the cervical cancer mortality rate has decreased by more than 50 percent due to the increased use of tests and early detection. If cervical cancer is detected early, it is one of the most successfully treated cancers. The following are some frequently asked questions about cervical cancer:

Q: What are some of the common risk factors for getting cervical cancer?

A: Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV. That is a group of more than 150 related viruses. Also, women who smoke are about twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer. Smoking also makes the immune system less effective in fighting HPV infections. Family history plays an important factor as well. You are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop cervical cancer if your mother or sister had it.

Q: What are some of the symptoms that I should be on the lookout for?

A: Symptoms of cervical cancer may include unusual bleeding or pain in the pelvic area. If you start to experience these types of symptoms or anything usual to that area, you should see your healthcare professional right away. Ignoring symptoms may allow for the cancer to grow to a more advanced stage and lower your chance for successful treatment.

Q: When should a woman start to get screened for cervical cancer?

A: Early detection in the form of screenings can save lives. All women should begin cervical cancer screenings at age 21. There are different tests women should have based on their age:

  • Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every three years.
  • Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have both a Pap test and an HPV test every five years. This is the preferred approach, but it is also deemed appropriate to have a Pap test alone every three years.

Women who are at high risk for cervical cancer may need to be screened more often. They should talk with their doctor or nurse. It is also important to note that women who have been vaccinated against HPV should still follow these guidelines. Vaccinations do not protect against all forms of HPV.

Q: Where can I get more information on cervical cancer?

A:  Mary Bird Perkins and its partners work together to provide state-of-the-art treatments and unparalleled collaborative, comprehensive cancer services. Click here to learn more about cervical cancer and to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians.