Did you know that at least 80 percent of women are exposed to the virus that causes cervical cancer during their lifetime? Most of the time, the body’s immune system gets rid of the virus before it causes harm. However, in some cases it can have dire consequences.
Each year about 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and more than 4,000 die of it in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most important risk factor for cervical cancer is an infection with certain types of the human papillomavirus. What makes this more challenging is that most HPV infections have no symptoms, but can still lead to cancer. In fact, the CDC also states that 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV and 14 million become newly infected each year. So, what can you or your loved ones do?
Get vaccinated. There are two vaccines available to protect females against the types of HPV that cause approximately 70 percent of cervical cancer. Vaccines are recommended for 11- and 12- year-old girls and for females age 13 through 26 who did not receive any or all of the shots when they were younger. The vaccine is approved for children as young as age 9 and is recommended for girls and boys, as HPV is linked to more than 9,000 cancers in men each year. It is a three-shot series. Even if fully vaccinated, it is important that women have regular Papanicolaou tests.
Women must receive their Pap tests. In the past, experts recommended that younger women have a Pap test every year. This has changed, and Pap testing is suggested every three years for most women over age 21. In the U.S., the first Pap test is recommended at age 21.
Most experts feel that women who are 65 years or older can stop having Pap tests if they have had them performed on a regular basis in the past or they have had at least three normal Pap tests in a row over the past 10 years, with the most recent within the past five years.
If a woman has had a total hysterectomy they only need a Pap test if they still have a cervix, known as a subtotal hysterectomy, or the hysterectomy was done because of pre-cervical or cervical cancer.
Get HPV tests done. If you are 30 years or older, your provider or nurse may recommend HPV testing during your Pap test. If your HPV test and Pap test are both negative, repeat testing is not usually needed for five years. HPV testing may also be done if the results of your Pap test results are unclear. Even if you have had a vaccine for HPV, you will still need cervical cancer screening.
Pap tests can be done at any time during a woman’s menstrual cycle, and the results should be available a few weeks after the visit. Pap test results are usually reported either as negative tests, there were no abnormal, precancerous or cancerous cells, or an abnormal result, cervical cells may appear abnormal for a variety of reasons. For example, you may have a cervical infection or you may have a precancerous area or even cervical cancer.
If your Pap test or HPV test is abnormal, you may need follow-up testing.
The most important part in all of this is you being active and educated in partnering with your primary care manager when it comes to your health. If you have questions or concerns about HPV or Pap testing you can contact your PCM directly by using MiCare at www.relayhealth.com. You can also book an appointment using www.tricareonline.com or call the 86th Medical Group at 06371-46-2273 or 479-CARE (2273).