Buried amongst the pandemic commotion was American Cancer Society’s newest cervical cancer screening guidelines. Cervical cancer affects women of all ages worldwide and is often dubbed ‘the silent killer’ as it presents with no symptoms in the early stages. Luckily there is an effective screening method to help reduce the number of late-stage diagnoses. Though the latest guidelines were announced in July 2020, Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is an excellent time to remind people of these latest changes.
Who should get screened?
People with a cervix aged from 25 years to 65 years should get screened. People over the age of 65 who have had regular screening in the past 10 years with normal results and no history of abnormal cells in the cervix (nor a more serious diagnosis in the part 25 years) should stop cervical screening. Once stopped, it should not be started again. People who have had a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) should stop screening unless the hysterectomy was done as a treatment for cervical cancer or serious pre-cancer. However, those who have had a supra-cervical hysterectomy (hysterectomy without the removal of the cervix) should continue cervical cancer screening in adherence to the guidelines. Cervical cancer screening should continue even after having children and after being vaccinated against the human papilloma virus (HPV).
What is the recommended way to get screened?
The preferred screening is to get a primary HPV test every five years. A primary HPV test is an HPV test that is done by itself for screening. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved certain tests to be primary tests, however these may not be widely available in the United States yet. For those who do not have access to a primary HPV test, it is recommended to either undergo a co-test every five years, which combines an HPV test with a pap test OR schedule a pap test alone every three years.
Why should I get screened?
Being screened for cervical cancer allows medical professionals to identify pre-cancers that are likely to progress to cancer and remove them before they are able to progress. Screening also allows medical teams to identify cervical cancer at an early stage, when it is mostly easily treated.
What happens if the results come back abnormal?
Abnormal results are frightening, but it’s important to be prepared. If results come back abnormal, discuss the results carefully with the healthcare team. It is important to understand what the results mean and know the course of action for what is to come. The healthcare team will discuss follow-up schedules, tests, and treatment options depending on the specific risk of developing cervical cancer. However, if any issues or concerns arise between screenings or appointments, see a doctor right away. Symptoms of cervical cancer include unusual bleeding, unusual discharge from the vagina, or pain during sex and, if experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule a screening as soon as possible.
It’s important to remember that you should consult your doctor on all of your health questions and prior to making important decisions regarding your healthcare.
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