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Protect yourself against cervical cancer

Jun. 5, 2013
 
Dr. Evangeline Ndigwe

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For the majority of women who are at low risk of developing cervical cancer, doctors will only require a Pap smear, to sample cervical cells, every three years, starting at age 21.

Previous guidelines required yearly screening, and the problem was a high number of false positives, especially in younger women.

Ministry Medical Group family physician Dr. Evangeline Ndigwe, who practices in Weston, said the false positives are harmful because they can lead to “unnecessary invasive procedures and anxiety.”

“We still recommend that women get yearly pelvic exams, but go every three years for the Pap screening,” she said.

The exception is women who have had a history of abnormal Pap smears or those diagnosed with HIV, whom doctors will screen annually. The Pap test does not screen women for ovarian, uterine, vaginal or vulvar cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Women older than 30 also will be given an HPV or human papillomavirus test to screen for the virus that can lead to abnormal cells and cervical cancer, as part of regular screening with a Pap test. Human papillomavirus is more common in younger women and tends to resolve itself with no treatment.

The combined Pap and HPV test is recommended every five years for women ages 30 to 65, Ndigwe said.

A normal test result means there is very low risk of cervical cancer.

Incidence of cervical cancer has been reduced more than 50 percent in the past 30 years, Ndigwe said. The rate went from 15 cases in 100,000 women in 1975 to 6.6 cases of the disease per every 100,000 women in 2008.

About 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, according to the CDC.

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