Cervical cancer rates are low in the United States, and it’s not a coincidence. Why? Young women are protecting themselves by getting the HPV vaccine around fifth or sixth grade. Also, for decades, women have gotten regular Pap tests for prevention and early detection.
“The right age to start Pap tests and the frequency of the screenings are controversial,” says Janell Powell, MD, with Avera Medical Group Internal Medicine Women’s. “Taking into account your behaviors and risk factors, it comes down to a decision between you and your doctor.”
More than 40 years ago, cervical cancer was the number one cause of cancer death in women, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Pap tests, which became routine post World War II, have changed that dramatically, by finding precancerous cells before cervical cancer can even develop, and catching cervical cancer in its earliest and most treatable stages.
Today, there are an estimated 12,900 new cases of cervical cancer and 4,100 deaths of the disease. It accounts for only 1.5 percent of cancer in women, according to American Cancer Society data.
On a related note, HPV, which causes most cases of cervical cancer, isn’t just a health concern for women. Men, too, can contract the sexually transmitted infection which leads to genital warts and some cancers.
“Along with women getting their Pap test, both boys and girls should receive the HPV vaccine,” says Powell.