By Elizabeth Perkins
Did you know that cervical cancer is one of the most preventative cancers? Thanks to the easy and effective Pap test (aka Pap smear) health care providers frequently catch precancerous cells. Nowadays in the U.S., cervical cancer rates are lower than they used to be. That’s largely due to the prominence of regular pap smears, and increased access to preventative health care (thanks Affordable Care Act!). However, there are still plenty of folks with cervixes who don’t go for their regular checkup. So, why should you get a Pap if you feel perfectly healthy?
- Pap tests are proactive, so the point is to catch problems early on. A Pap test is meant to test for precancerous cells on the cervix. Wait, where’s the cervix, you ask? Don’t worry, I got you:
Internal Sexual Anatomy
The cervix is a part of the body that constantly changes. It sheds and regenerates its cells, and is especially vulnerable to precancerous cells. Pap tests check for problems with these changes. Cervical cancer can take years to develop. Abnormal precancerous cells don’t usually have any symptoms. Even if you don’t feel like anything’s wrong, it’s important to get a Pap test to be sure. Once cervical cancer has developed, treatment gets more difficult and expensive.
- HPV is the most common STD. Most sexually active people will get at least one type of HPV in their lives. HPV is also the leading cause of cervical cancer. Most folks who are sexually active have been exposed to HPV at some point in their lives. One in four people with a cervix will contract the types of HPV that could lead to cervical cancer, but just 1 in 1000 cases actually result in cervical cancer. That’s because we have so many great ways to prevent HPV! Getting the HPV vaccine and visiting your health care provider for regular checkups and a Pap test can go a long way to keep HPV from becoming cervical cancer. And don’t forget condoms – using a latex or polyurethane condom correctly every time you have sex will significantly reduce your risk of getting HPV.
- HPV can progress into cancer if you wait too long to get checked. Health care providers recommend pap smears every three years starting at age 21. If it’s been longer than that, it’s time to make an appointment. If you’re nervous, prepare yourself so you know what to expect, and tell your provider so they can talk you through the visit.
- You deserve to be healthy! Going to see your doctor for a regular pap test is an important part of self-care. No one else will take care of your health but you.
Your local PPINK health center can schedule you for your next pap test, whether or not you have insurance. In honor of cervical cancer awareness, share this blog with someone you care about. Prevention is love.