Common Questions about Cervical Health
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and serves as an important reminder for women to be screened. Thanks to increased use of screening tests and advancements in modern medicine, the cervical cancer death rate has decreased by more than 50 percent over the past 30 years. Still, it is estimated that approximately 13,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year. Ruchi Garg, MD, board-certified gynecologic oncologist at Inova Loudoun Hospital, answers a few frequently asked questions about the disease.
How often should women be screened for cervical cancer?
Screening frequency generally depends on age and risk factors. It is recommended that a woman begin routine screening at age 21–and be screened at least every couple of years until age 30. But if she has any risk factors, the frequency may increase. Women over age 30 should also be tested for HPV as it is strongly associated with cervical cancer. If the two tests are negative, a woman can continue screening every two to three years, versus annually. The guidelines have changed so much and it can get confusing. It is best to check with your gynecologist to assess your risk factors and understand your specific screening recommendations.
What are some other risk factors?
Risk factors can include early onset of sexual activity, multiple pregnancies, multiple partners, smoking and immunosuppressed status, to name a few.
What are some early symptoms that women can identify?
Irregular spotting or dysfunctional bleeding, especially after intercourse, and abnormal or copious amounts of discharge are just some of the early symptoms of cervical cancer. Listen to your body and consult with your gynecologist if something doesn’t seem right.
What can a woman do to reduce her risk?
The HPV vaccine is the foremost way to help reduce risk. Condoms, smoking cessation and decreasing the number of sexual partners can all help lessen the risk for developing cervical cancer.
What are some treatment options?
Treatment options will vary depending on the stage of the cancer. If it’s early stage cancer, it may be treated with surgery. But if it is in the advanced stages or has spread to the local area, then it should be treated with chemotherapy and radiation.