January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, so today we are discussing cervical cancer screenings and their immense benefit.
You might be thinking, what is a screening, and how can it help?
The goal of a screening is to detect cancer early, so that it can be taken care of early. The later cancer is detected, the more likely it has developed into a stage that is more detrimental to your health. Screenings mitigate the likelihood of you developing a late-stage cancer, because screenings are ideally conducted before the patient has any symptoms of the disease. This is also known as preventative care.
This is particularly the case with cervical cancer, as there are three stages of pre-cancers that are able to be detected with cervical cancer screening. Discovering cervical cancer early, or while the cells are pre-cancerous, is most beneficial as finding these developments early allows for treatment earlier on.
Individuals that are showing symptoms of cervical cancer should schedule a screening immediately. Showing symptoms of cervical cancer can be scary, but scheduling a screening will allow the soonest possible diagnoses and an easier treatment plan, should the symptoms be caused by it.
There are two methods of screening for cervical cancer.
The Pap Test is a procedure where your healthcare provider collects a sample of cells from the cervix so they can be examined closely in a lab to assess for cancerous and pre-cancerous cells.
The pap test is completed during a visit to the gynecologist; your gynecologist will insert a speculum inside the vagina. Once opened, the gynecologist will collect a sample of cells using a small brush. These samples are then sent into a lab for assessment.
Women should begin getting Pap tests at age 21 and continue receiving a screening every three years unless abnormal cells are found. Women who are 65 years of age or older and have had normal screenings for several years can generally stop having Pap smears.
Another method of screening for cervical cancer is the HPV test. This is because infection with HPV, or human papillomavirus, is the most important risk factor for developing cervical cancer. Doctors can test for the presence of HPV by collecting a sample of cells from the cervix and assessing them for the presence of the virus.
The collection process is similar to that of the pap test and can be completed by itself as a primary HPV test, or alongside a pap test as a co-test. The HPV test is commonly used as the preferred test for cervical cancer screenings for those aged 25-65 years old. In addition, the HPV vaccine can help prevent cervical cancer and is highly encouraged.
If your result from the HPV test is positive, this does not mean that you are diagnosed with cervical cancer or pre-cancer, however, it does indicate that you are at an increased risk for developing cervical cancer.
Coverage of cervical cancer screenings is mandated by the Affordable Care Act, but if your insurance plan was in place prior to September 23, 2010, you need to check with your insurance plan to see what is covered. Most insurance policies since this date are required to include coverage for cervical cancer screenings. Those with Medicaid, Medicare, and many self-insured plans are covered by their policies for routine cervical cancer screenings.
If you are without health insurance, the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program provides breast and cervical cancer screening to women without health insurance for free, or little cost.
Cervical cancer is the most common type of cancer in women, but, remember, it is also one of the most preventable. Making sure you are vaccinated against HPV and are getting regular screenings is the best way to prevent cervical cancer. If you need help accessing these preventive care services, please contact us for assistance.