Jan. 7, 2020 – Every New Year, many women resolve to be proactive
about their health, whether it be improving their diet, exercising more,
or being more mindful about health screenings. It’s no coincidence,
then, that Cervical Health Awareness Month falls in January. With nearly
13,000 women diagnosed annually, Southeast Georgia Health System encourages
women to take the necessary steps to prevent cervical cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly half of the women diagnosed
with cervical cancer never had a Pap test; another 10% hadn’t been
tested within the past five years.
There’s no need to become a statistic. Cervical cancer from the human
papillomavirus (HPV) is highly preventable. “Follow the screening
guidelines and protect yourself against HPV by getting vaccinated. Make
it part of your routine health care,” says
Jason Joseph, M.D., chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Southeast Georgia Health System
Brunswick Campus, and a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist at
Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Obstetrics & Gynecology.
The current Pap test guidelines are:
- Every three years starting at age 21. (Screening not recommended under 21.)
Between ages 30-65, follow one of three options:
- A Pap test alone every three years
- A Pap and HPV test every five years
- After 65, stop screening if no history of abnormal cervical cells and if
three consecutive tests or two co-tests were negative
If your cervix was removed during a hysterectomy, you can skip screenings,
unless you’ve had precancerous lesions.
Understanding Abnormal Results
Depending on your results, you may need additional screenings or procedures.
Don’t be alarmed. “An abnormal pap smear is usually related
to an HPV viral infection that clears up in most people. Just have your
doctor monitor it,” says Joseph. If you have HPV, you’re not
alone. According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, approximately
75-80% of men and women are infected with HPV at some point in their lives.
According to Joseph, it takes HPV five to eight years to become cancerous.
Symptoms such as bleeding, discharge or pain don’t appear until
the later stages. “We can usually catch it early with regular screenings.”
Abnormal results may require a repeat Pap or a colposcopy (a biopsy of
cervical tissue) for further testing.
Preparing for the Pap
There are things you can do to improve the accuracy of your Pap test:
- Schedule your appointment when you’re not menstruating. Reschedule
if your period starts and will continue on your testing day.
- Avoid sex 48 hours before the Pap test.
- For 48 hours before the test, avoid douching, tampons or vaginal creams,
foams, films or jellies.
Don’t Hesitate, Vaccinate
Men and women can protect themselves and their children from HPV by getting
vaccinated, which is given in a series of shots. The Centers for Disease
- HPV vaccination for preteen girls and boys starting at age 11 or 12 years.
- HPV vaccination for females and males 13 to 26 years old who have not started
the vaccines, or who have started but not completed the series.
For people age 27 and older, Joseph recommends they talk with their health
care provider for more information. Although the vaccine is deemed safe,
it is not likely to provide much, if any, benefit as people get older.
Joseph recommends more frequent Pap and HPV testing if you have any of
these risk factors:
- History of high-grade cervical dysplasia (abnormal cells)
- Multiple sexual partners
- HIV positive
- Compromised immune system
Here are Joseph’s responses to some common misunderstandings:
- Women past child-bearing age don’t need a Pap. “People sometimes
get new partners later in life. Protect your health by getting tested.”
- Women in same-sex relationships don’t need Pap or HPV tests or the
HPV vaccine. “Not true. Follow your age group’s recommended
- I’m vaccinated against HPV. I don’t need a Pap. “Vaccinations
help prevent, but don’t always eliminate HPV. Get regular screenings.”
To schedule an appointment with Joseph, call
Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Obstetrics & Gynecology at 912-466-7250.