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January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month: Why Get Screened?

Cervical cancer is life-threatening and, thankfully, relatively rare type of cancer. The good news is that it is treatable and can be totally preventable.

Cervical cancer occurs in the cervix. The cervix is the muscular opening

between the vagina and uterus that acts as a "bridge" through which menstrual flow, semen and babies pass through. The cervical cells can become cancerous when exposed to various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted infection. About 80% of people will have HPV at some point in their lives and most of them will never know they're infected.

Typically, the HPV virus is harmless. The body's immune system usually is able to fight off th

e virus and prevent it from becoming a serious problem. However, in a small percentage of people, the virus can survive for a long period of time, lying dormant, but contributing to the process that causes cancer cells.

If left undetected and untreated, cancer cells can spread to the bladder, lymph nodes, liver, intestines and bones. Essentially, cancer cells can spread anywhere throughout the body. Once cancer reaches this stage, it is very difficult to treat and can be fatal.

You can minimize or eliminate your risk of developing cervical cancer by having regular screenings.

Who needs to be screened? And how often?

  • Women Aged 21-29:

    • If you are in this age group, you should have your first Pap test at age 21, followed by Pap testing every 3 years. Even if you are sexually active, you do not need a Pap test before age 21.

  • Women Aged 30-65:

    • If you are in this age group, USPSTF recommends getting screened for cervical cancer using one of the following methods:

      • HPV test every 5 years

      • HPV/Pap tests every 5 years

      • Pap test every 3 years

  • Older Than 65:

    • If you are in this age group, talk with your health care provider to learn if screening is still needed. Your doctor may tell you that you don’t need to be screened anymore if you have had normal screening test results for several years and you have not had a cervical precancer in the past. If you have had your cervix removed as part of a total hysterectomy for non-cancerous conditions, like fibroids, obviously you will not need to be screened further for cervical cancer.

What else can I do to prevent cervical cancer?

Get the HPV vaccine. The vaccine is recommended for pre-teen boys and girls at 11-12 years old, but can be administered to children as young as 9 years old. If not vaccinated already, the current recommendations advise the vaccine can be given to people through age 26. After age 26, you might want to speak with your health care provider about the effectiveness of the vaccine for you, as your odds of already being infected with HPV are much higher. And, yes, young men and boys should be vaccinated against HPV not only to protect the women they may become sexually active with, but to protect themselves as well. HPV infections are linked to several cancers, including penile and anal cancers in men and head and neck cancers in men and women. Sadly, there are no early screening exams for males with HPV-related cancers.

How do I get screened?

Make an appointment with Louisville Medical Center today. Well Woman Exams are a low $75 and laboratory testing (Pap and HPV) are billable to insurance. We would love to help you protect your health. Please call 402-234-5049 for your appointment today!


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