Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers among women worldwide, says Marla Ahlgrimm. The leading cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is very common and is spread through sexual contact. Fortunately, most people who have HPV never develop symptoms or cervical cancer. However, Marla Ahlgrimm says that some people experience cell changes within their cervix. These eventually lead to cancer if not caught and treated.
According to Marla Ahlgrimm, cervical cancer screening is the best way to detect early issues. Screenings can help point doctors toward cell changes in the cervix before they turn cancerous. This allows for early treatment, which may save lives.
There are two types of screening for cervical cancer. These are the Pap and HPV tests.
Marla Ahlgrimm explains that a Pap test, or Pap smear, looks for abnormal cells in the cervix. This is typically done by an OB/GYN or other healthcare provider and involves inserting a speculum into the vagina, allowing for a view of the interior of the cervix. A small brush or swab is then used to collect cells from the cervix. These are sent to a laboratory for examination.
An HPV test looks for the presence of the human papillomavirus in the cervix. An HPV test is typically done at the same time as a Pap test, says Marla Ahlgrimm.
Marla Ahlgrimm recommends that all women get screened for cervical cancer starting at the age of 21. Women should then be screened every three years until they’re 65 years of age. At that time, women can speak with their healthcare provider about whether or not they still require yearly screening.
There are some women who might need to be screened for cervical cancer more often. Marla Ahlgrimm says that this includes women who had an abnormal Pap test, those who are HIV-positive, and women who have had a weakened immune system.
Marla Ahlgrimm recommends talking to your primary health care provider if you have questions about cervical cancer screening or wish to schedule an appointment.
Reducing Your Risk
While there is no 100% foolproof way to ensure that you remain cancer-free throughout your life, there are some things that women can do to help protect themselves against cervical cancer. These include:
- Getting vaccinated against HPV. Marla Ahlgrimm explains that there is now a vaccine that can protect people from getting HPV. Vaccine is typically recommended for boys and girls between ages 11 and 12 and can be given to older women who have not yet been vaccinated, even if they are sexually active.
- Avoiding smoking. Smoking increases the risk of cervical and other types of cancers. Marla Ahlgrimm suggests quitting if you currently smoke. A vape is not a safer alternative to cigarettes.
- Engaging and safe and healthy sexual practices. People who have sex with multiple partners, especially when unprotected, are more at risk of developing HPV and thus have a higher chance of being diagnosed with cervical cancer. Marla Ahlgrimm recommends practicing safe sex and insisting that you and your partner or partners undergo STD screenings.
- Getting regular medical checkups. From your yearly exam to routine Pap and HPV test, Marla Ahlgrimm insists that there are many ways that you can maintain a relationship with your healthcare provider to ensure that you stay healthy.