January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, and doctors are urging the importance of screening and prevention of cervical cancer.
“The folks that get in trouble are the ones who disappear, don’t get routine screening,” said Dr. Harris Wexler, obstetrician-gynecologist at LewisGale Hospital.
“That’s because signs and symptoms aren’t really there. That’s why a PAP smear is so important.”
Cervical cancer was once the leading cause of death in women. Over the past 20 years, the rate of cervical cancer has been on a downward trend.
“It’s gone down and down ever since the PAP smear was developed it has just continued to go down,” said Wexler.
“Because it’s such a quick and effective test, it’s just huge that now cervical cancer is no longer one of the leading causes of death.”
Thirty three new cases of cervical cancer were reported in the Roanoke area between 2009 and 2013.
While that doesn’t seem like a step in the right direction, Wexler says it’s due to women in rural areas not having access to proper screening.
“Regionally, that’s not very good for the state as a whole,” said Wexler.
“A lot of that may be there is a lot of rural population here who doesn’t get routine or regular woman care. One of the great things is that a PAP smear allows us to catch this really, really early before it ever becomes cancer.”
The most common cause of cervical cancer is HPV.
HPV can be prevented with multiple vaccines that are administered in both girls and boys starting at age 11.
Women should get screenings starting at age 21 every three years. A HPV test can be administered along with a screening every five years for women older than 30.
Risk factors for HPV include cigarette use, multiple partners, a weak immune system, and AIDS.