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January is Cervical Health Awareness Month

How Preventative Exams Are Used to Detect Cervical Cancer in Women

Three preventive services specifically for women covered by health insurance are the pap smearpelvic exam and the human papillomavirus (HPV) test. Each plays an important role in keeping you healthy by looking for abnormal cells before they turn into a more serious condition like cervical cancer.

The pap smear is a routine outpatient cervical cancer screening that women have been getting for decades. It’s recommended that women start getting pap smears at 21 years old. The pap test looks for changes in the cervix that may lead to cancer. Routine pap smears are encouraged to find cancer early when it’s easier to treat.

For women 30 or older, the HPV test can be done at the same time as the pap test. HPV is one of the leading causes of cervical cancer cases in the United States. There are many types of HPV and it’s the most common sexually transmitted infection in the nation. During an HPV test, your doctor checks the cervix for the HPV virus. The virus can cause abnormal cells, which could lead to cervical cancer.

Pelvic exams look for signs of disease in the pelvic area. Doctors use pelvic exams to check your:

  • Cervix;
  • Fallopian tubes;
  • Ovaries;
  • Rectum;
  • Uterus; and
  • Vulva.

Remember, pap smears and pelvic exams check for different things. They can be done separately or at the same time by an OB/GYN. Cervical cancer affects more than 14,000 women yearly in the United States. Cervical cancer starts in the cells lining the cervix, which is the lower, narrow end of a woman’s uterus. It is a preventable disease if women have routine screenings and receive the HPV vaccines.

The National Cancer Institute lists several precautions women can take to lower their risk for cervical cancer. The type of HPV that leads to cervical cancer is transmitted through sexual contact. Women lower their chances of getting HPV when they:

  • Get the HPV vaccine.
  • Use a condom or diaphragm.

By now it should be clear why having a routine pap smear, pelvic exam and HPV test is important. Early detection screenings are key to helping you staying healthy.

For information about preventative exams that detect cervical cancer, visit here.

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