One of the last things on anyone’s “favorite thing” list is a PAP smear. It can be awkward, cold and uncomfortable. However, routine PAP smears could help to prevent cervical cancer which can turn awkward into life-saving.
Human papilloma virus, HPV, has over 150 strains and can cause genital warts, non cancerous tumors and malignancies, most commonly cervical cancer. HPV is spread through skin to skin contact from vaginal, oral and anal sex. The virus is cleared by the body over 80% of the time and most people will come into contact with HPV in their lifetime. HPV can be dormant in your body, asymptomatic, and spread to other partners later in life. With the high prevalence of HPV, regular PAP smears and women’s health exams are now more important than ever. You are more likely to have HPV if you have had multiple sexual partners, if your partner has had multiple partners, if you began having sex at an early age or are a smoker.
Cervical cancer is typically caused by the HPV virus that turns normal healthy cervical cells into cancerous ones. PAP smears can detect precancerous cells and with treatment cervical cancer can be prevented. When cervical cancer is found in its early stages it is much easier to treat and possibly could even be cured. There are basically no symptoms of cervical cancer in its early stages but the changing cells are seen under the microscope. Symptoms of later staged cervical cancer include vaginal bleeding not associated with a period, foul smelling vaginal discharge and pain.
There is a vaccine to protect you against HPV for those 13-26 years of age. The vaccines protect you from HPV 16 and HPV 18 which are the two most common cancer causing strains. Talk with your doctor about your HPV and cervical cancer risk factors to determine how often you should undergo screenings and if a vaccine is right for you. Remember cervical cancer is preventable with proper health screening which could save your life. Don’t put it on the back burner. If you have any concerns or if it’s time for your annual exam, contact The Woman’s Clinic today!