Cervical cancer starts when normal cells in the cervix begin to change. When the cells first begin to change, these cells are called pre-cancerous. The pre-cancerous cells can be found early with a pap test before they turn into an invasive cancer. Finding these abnormal cells early allow for treatment options that can stop the progression into cancer. A pap test collects a sample of cells from the cervix which are looked at under a microscope. Recommendations for pap tests have been changing over the years. If you are a female over the age of 21, be sure to discuss a pap test with your medical provider. Even though a pap test may not be recommended every year, a pelvic exam is still highly recommended on an annual basis. A pelvic exam is different from a pap; during a pelvic exam, cervical cells are not sampled, the physician does a visual and or physical evaluation of the pelvic and genitalia organs.
Did you know that most cervical cancers are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)? The Food and Drug Administration has approved two vaccines to prevent HPV. If you are between the ages of nine and 26, talk with your primary care provider to see if the HPV vaccine is right for you. Fortunately, invasive cervical cancer rates are decreasing thanks to pap tests and HPV vaccines.