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    January is Cervical Health Awareness Month – When did you get your last pap smear?

    by Ngozi Osuagwu, MD | January 3rd, 2016

    January is Cervical Health Awareness Month – When did you get your last pap smear?

    When was the last time you had your pap smear?

    What was the result?

    When are you due for your next pap smear?

    If you cannot answer these questions, then you should schedule an appointment to see your physician.

    A pap smear is a screening test for cervical cancer. The majority of people who are diagnosed with cervical cancer either have not had a pap smear in over 5 years or have not followed up with their physician the proper way after they had an abnormal pap smear.

    A lot has changed when it comes to getting pap smears:

    • We start at age 21 years old to get your first pap smear.
    • We no longer get pap smears every year. If you are between ages 21 and 29 years old, you will probably be getting your pap smears every 3 years.
    • If you are 30 years and older, you will be getting a pap smear and you will also be tested for human papillomavirus (HPV) at the same time. If both are negative, you will probably be getting your pap smears every 3 – 5 years.

    We know that the majority of cervical cancer is caused by HPV, but not everyone with HPV has a problem. The reason we do not check young people for HPV is because HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection and it very common in young people. HPV is a virus and is usually transient, meaning it can come and go. The HPV that we are concerned about is the one that is persistent meaning that it is always around each time you are checked.

    There are ways that we can prevent cervical cancer:

    Get your pap smear regularly – this allows us to catch any problem in the precancerous stage (before it turns to cancer) so that it can be treated.

    Use condoms when having sex especially if you have multiple partners

    Stop smoking – HPV loves nicotine

    Get your HPV vaccine – It is best to get the vaccine before you start having sex like in middle school  however,  you can get it up to age 26 years old regardless if you have had sex or have already been infected with HPV. There are a lot of different types of HPV so the vaccine can still help decrease cancer.

    With the Affordable Care Act, your insurance should be covering the cost of a pap smear. If you have no insurance, you can still get your pap smear for free (please click here). Please get screened. Ask a friend if they are up to date with their pap smear. You might be the one that makes a difference. Cervical cancer can be prevented.

    Even if you are not scheduled to get your pap smear, you should still get your annual well woman exam. A pap smear is one test that can be done at that time – there is so much more to a well woman exam.

    Pap smear fact sheet

    Next week, will talk more about the HPV vaccine –stay tuned


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