GHS Cares: What you need to know about Cervical Cancer Screenings
A cervical cancer screening, also referred to as a pap smear, has been a fundamental piece of a woman’s annual exam for many years. Before we discuss the details of current recommendations for cervical cancer screening, it is important to review the basics: The cervix is the lower part of the uterus, which dilates when a woman is giving birth and then returns to its normal closed state. Like other parts of the body, cancer can develop on a woman’s cervix. In order to catch cancer or pre-cancer early while it is still easily treatable, we recommend regular cervical cancer screening. This screening is done by collecting cells from the cervix with a swab during a pelvic exam. This collection of cells is called a pap smear. A pelvic exam does not always include a pap smear so it’s best to ask your provider when your last pap smear was obtained.
Fact #1 HPV, or human papilloma virus, increases risk of cervical cancer.
There are several risk factors for developing cervical cancer, including tobacco use, family history of cervical cancer, and testing positive for the HPV virus. HPV, or human papilloma virus, is a very common virus that most young sexually active women are exposed to. Most young women clear or cure themselves of HPV without treatment, and once they’ve cleared the HPV virus their risk of cervical cancer decreases. However, a small percentage of women do not clear the HPV virus and have higher long-term risks of cervical cancer. Thankfully, there is now a vaccine for HPV for girls and young women that will help protect them from HPV and cervical cancer. This may mean women vaccinated for HPV won’t need such frequent cervical cancer screenings in the future.
Fact #2 Pap smears are important, but are not typically recommended yearly.
Currently, cervical cancer screenings, or pap smears, are recommended starting at age 21 through age 65. For women under age 30, a pap smear is recommended every 3 years as long as the pap smear result is normal. Starting after age 30, women can have both pap smears and HPV testing together. If the pap smear and HPV tests are normal, women can space their pap smears to every 5 years. Although it seems odd to not have a pap smear every year, there is good evidence that it’s safe to space pap smears out.
Fact #3 Women who have undergone a hysterectomy may still need pap smears.
Many women who have had a hysterectomy, or surgical removal of their uterus, wonder whether they still need to have a pap smear. The answer is that it depends. If a woman had her uterus removed for things like fibroids or heavy bleeding, they probably do not need to have regular pap smears. If, however, they had their uterus removed due to cancer or have a history of abnormal pap smears, they may still need to have pap smears. Even if a woman does not need pap smears, we still encourage women to ask their provider about whether they need a pelvic exam for other reasons.
We at Granville Primary Care, Butner-Creedmoor enjoy providing full-spectrum women’s’ health care. We offer routine cervical cancer screenings, prenatal care and contraception management, including intrauterine devices (IUDs). We encourage every woman to make sure they’ve had their annual wellness exam whether or not they are due for a pap smear.
Dr. Liz Baltaro and Dr. Amy Nayo are primary care physicians expanding community access to quality pediatric and family medicine at Granville Primary Care, Butner-Creedmoor, located at 1614 NC Highway 56, Butner. To schedule your primary care appointment, please call 919-575-6103 or schedule online at ghshospital.org. You can schedule a primary care appointment with a provider as far as 12 months in advance through online scheduling.