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NEWS | Jan. 25, 2016

What women should know about cervical cancer

By Tammy Gray, nurse educator and director Naval Health Clinic Charleston Health and Wellness Program

Cervical cancer is often called the "silent killer" because women with early stage cervical cancer typically have no symptoms. It is not until the cancer spreads and becomes invasive that symptoms present themselves. By this time, it is usually too late.

The good news is, because women are being more proactive and undergoing screening for the disease, the number of deaths from cervical cancer in the past 40 years has decreased significantly, according to the American Cancer Society. However, more than 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed in the U.S. last year and 4,030 women died as a result of the disease, suggesting that there is still more we need to do to combat cervical cancer. 

The most important measure a woman can take to prevent cervical cancer is to have regular Pap screening tests beginning at age 21 and continuing until 65. If normal, a Pap screening test should be done every three years. Women 30 years old or older should also get tested for HPV, the Human Papilloma Virus (just one of the causes of cervical cancer), along with a Pap smear, every five years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that eight million women who should be getting regular cervical cancer screenings are not doing so. An estimated 93 percent of the diagnosed cases of cervical cancer could have been prevented with a single Pap screening test, according to the American Cancer society.

Women can be their own best advocates by asking their clinical care providers to schedule Pap tests. Scheduling a Pap test is easy and can be life-saving.