As a woman, routine Pap smears are essential to your health. They are vital for women of all ages. This short, simple procedure in your doctor’s office can save your life. January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and the ideal opportunity to discuss how regular Pap smears can save your life.
Did you know that 40 years ago cervical cancer was the leading cause of death in women? The cervical cancer death rate dropped sharply in the last four decades, largely due to the increased use of Pap smears.
Dr. Poonam Malhotra at Central Clinic in Spring Hill, Florida, explains why this test is a crucial part of preventive health for women. This simple, in-office test screens for abnormal changes in your cervix and is designed to detect the earliest signs of cervical cancer.
Each year more than 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and it’s estimated that over 4,000 will die of the disease. Survival depends on various factors, including the stage at which the cervical cancer is diagnosed.
When cervical cancer is caught early, your chances of survival are high. This makes routine Pap smears a life-saving tool. In earlier stages of cervical cancer, the amount of cancer is very small. We can only see it under a microscope and it’s confined to a small area. Because it hasn’t spread beyond the cervix in early stages, it’s easier to treat and cure.
Cervical cancer rarely occurs in women who get routine Pap smears. Most women diagnosed with cervical cancer haven’t had a Pap smear in the five years prior to diagnosis. That’s because a Pap smear can detect precancerous changes in cervical cells, allowing Dr. Malhotra to initiate treatment before cancer develops.
Precancerous cervical changes are common, and you’re more likely to be diagnosed with precancerous changes than invasive cervical cancer.
Infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the primary risk factor for cervical cancer. In fact, two types of HPV are responsible for roughly 70% of cervical cancers diagnosed each year.
Being overweight, consuming a poor diet, having a weakened immune system, and having certain sexually transmitted infections that cause cervical inflammation and raise your cervical cancer risk. Lifestyle factors like smoking also increase your risk. If you smoke, you are twice as likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is more commonly diagnosed in women between the age of 35 and 44. Beginning in your 20s, you should start scheduling routine Pap smears. If you’ve had three normal Pap smears in a row and are free of risk factors, we may recommend scheduling a Pap smear every three years. If you have certain risk factors, we may recommend getting a Pap smear more often.
You should continue getting routine Pap smears as you age. Women over the age of 65 are at an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. If you have a cervix, it’s essential that you continue getting Pap smears.
Starting young and continuing to get routine Pap smears can save your life. For comprehensive women's care, call our office at 352-254-5649, or request an appointment online.