Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer among women, and around 12,000 women were diagnosed last year in our country alone. Let's look into facts, risk factors and guidelines for early detection to keep us healthy.

If there's one thing you take away, though, know that cervical cancer is preventable -- there are vaccines, screenings and treatments to protect you.

Fast Facts
Cervical cancer is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), but having HPV does not mean you will get cervical cancer. Here's how it works:

  • HPV is spread through sexual contact. Some people don't even know they have it as symptoms do not always show.
  • Most HPV infections will disappear by themselves without treatment. Cervical cancer risk comes into play when these infections don't go away; they can cause changes in the cells, and this is what may lead to cervical cancer.
  • Routine checkups with your gynecologist include a Pap test, which looks for any of these abnormal cells.
  • There is a vaccine that protects against two types of HPV that cause almost 70% of cervical cancers. It is recommended for girls 11-12 years old and is approved up to 26 years old. For more information about the vaccine, check out the CDC's Fact Sheet.

Guidelines for Early Detection
As a rule of thumb, a woman should have her first screening no later than age 21, assuming she has not been sexually active until age 18. If younger than 18, cervical cancer screenings should begin 3 years after sexual activity. A Pap test is used to look for abnormal cells, and this routine part of a checkup should be completed at your gynecologist's recommendation.

By age 30, if you've had 3 normal Pap tests in a row, your gynecologist may be willing to test less often. If you have family history or a weak immune system, however, you still may be tested regularly.

If you're looking for a gynecologist for yourself or maybe a daughter now at the age to schedule her first appointment, use the Find a Doctor section on The Chester County Hospital's website to find one near you. Just enter your zip code and select "Obstetrics/Gynecology" from the specialty drop-down list. Read backgrounds on different physicians, call the office number listed, and voila! -- you have an appointment. Pretty easy, huh?

Risk Factors
As with most diseases and cancers, there are some things you can control and some you can't. Check out these risk factors to see what you may be able to change to lower your risk of cervical cancer:

  • Smoking
  • Diet low in fruits and vegetables
  • Taking birth control pills
  • Overweight
  • Multiple full-term pregnancies
  • Young age at first full-term pregnancy
  • Family history of cervical cancer

While we know that cervical cancer is among the most common types of cancer, half of the women who have been diagnosed had not been tested in the previous five years. That shows that regular screening is pretty important, don't you think? Use this information to make your own plan for screenings to keep yourself healthy.

Information has been adapted from The American Cancer Society.

Related Information from Chester County Hospital

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