Dr. George Nicholas Papanicolaou invented the test that everyone loves to hate. However, before the Pap test became a regular part of women’s wellness checks, cervical cancer killed more females in the U.S. than any other cancer. Today, it doesn’t even rank in the top 10 screening matters.
The Pap smear is one of several tests that can find a gynecologic cancer early, when treatment can be most effective. There are five main types of gynecologic cancer: cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal and vulvar. Unfortunately, all women are at risk for these cancers, and it increases as you age.
Risk for gynecologic cancers
Human Papillomavirus (HPV), sometimes called the “common cold” of sexual activity, causes many cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers. The correlation between high-risk HPV and cervical cancer is higher than that between smoking and lung cancer. Some of the other risk factors include smoking, being overweight or obese, long-term birth control use, and family history.
Women older than 40 are at an increased risk for ovarian cancer, particularly after menopause. Some other risk factors include obesity, certain fertility drugs, a family history of ovarian, breast or colorectal cancer and a personal history of breast cancer.
Prevention: Screen and vaccine
The HPV vaccine (Gardasil 9) protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers. Following CDC guidelines, Roper St. Francis Healthcare recommends vaccinations begin at 11 or 12 years old. Talk with your doctor about the HPV vaccine. If you don’t have a doctor, you can find one here.
In addition to screening and vaccination, be aware of which risk factors apply to you and know your family medical history.
If you need an OB/GYN, Roper St. Francis Physician Partners OB/GYN is proud to provide personal, thoughtful care for Lowcountry women. Find one now.