In recognition of National Cervical Health Awareness Month, the Chautauqua County Health Department is asking women to talk to their doctors about getting screened for cervical cancer.
"This is an excellent time to learn how to lower your risk and take steps to prevent cervical cancer," says Christine Schuyler, county public health director. "While any woman can get cervical cancer, it occurs more often in women over 30 years old. Women who are not screened or have not been screened in a long time could have cervical cancer and not know it."
Cervical cancer is most often found in women who have not had a Pap test in more than five years or have never had a Pap test. The Pap test, commonly called "Pap smear," is the main screening test for cervical cancer and can identify cells on the cervix that may become cancerous. In the United States, the Pap test has reduced cervical cancer rates by more than 70 percent.
The risk for cervical cancer depends on a person's sexual history, their immune system, their health and their lifestyle. Certain factors increase a woman's risk of developing cervical cancer, including:
Human papillomavirus infection. HPV is a common virus that causes nearly all cervical cancer and can be passed from one person to another during sex;
Age - the majority of cervical cancers occur in women over age 30;
Smoking - women who smoke are twice as likely as nonsmokers to develop cervical cancer;
Having HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, or another condition that makes it hard for the body to fight off health problems;
Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth; and
Personal history of precancer of the cervix.
Women can reduce their risk for developing cervical cancer by getting regular Pap tests, being immunized against HPV, and not smoking. Women who are sexually active can reduce their risk for HPV infection by using latex condoms during sex and limiting the number of sexual partners.
Females between the ages of 9 and 26 or their parents can talk to their doctors about the HPV vaccine, which protects against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers.
"It's still important for women to continue to have a Pap test even if they've had the HPV vaccine because the vaccine is not 100 percent effective," said Schuyler.
Women who are uninsured or underinsured should contact their local Cancer Services Program to find out how to get free cervical cancer screening. Call 1-866-442-2262 to find a program in the area.
For more information about the Cancer Services Program or the HPV?vaccine, visit health.ny.gov.
For help quitting smoking, call the NYS Smokers' Quitline at 866-697-8487. For more information about quitting smoking, visit nysmokefree.com.