Cervical Cancer Awareness Month: Women urged to get routine screenings

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and Aspirus Health reminds women how important routine screenings are in the diagnosis of cervical cancer.

“Routine screenings can help detect cancer and precancerous lesions early, and save lives,” said Dr. Kelley Dilliard, a primary care physician at Aspirus Family Health Specialists, Wausau.

According to the American Cancer Society, in 2019 an estimated 13,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer and about 4,250 died from the disease.

Stopping cancer with screening

Most cervical cancers start with precancerous changes that gradually turn into cancer. Screening can find these abnormal changes, which doctors can then treat, stopping cancer from developing.

“Screening includes the Pap test and a pelvic exam,” said Dilliard. “For some women, the HPV test may also be included, based on risk factors and their age.” The Pap test looks for cell changes and abnormal cells, while the HPV test looks for the virus that causes cell changes.

“Most cervical cancers are asymptomatic which is why routine screening is so important,” Dilliard said.

Aspirus Health recommends talking with your primary care provider to determine the best screening schedule based on your risk factors. (The American Cancer Society advises that women of average risk get a Pap test every three years, starting at age 21.)