January is Cervical Health Awareness Month – and that means it’s the perfect time to schedule a cervical cancer screening. Cervical cancer is on the decline, but it’s still one of the most common types of cancer in women.
And if you want to stay safe, you should get screened. Do you have all the information you need? Read this post to find out what you need to know.
What is a cervical cancer screening?
Cervical cancer screening is a test that pinpoints early stage cancer, or precancer, allowing doctors to target the disease quickly and effectively. Cervical cancer survival rates (read here) have improved drastically over the past 40 years, because more women are getting tested and treated early.
A Pap testhelps doctors find early-stage cancer before symptoms appear. And, an HPV test screens for the human papillomavirus infection, which is the leading cause of cervical cancer.
You should start getting screened each year at the age of 21. If you're over 30,you can get both tests at once and save yourself some time.
How should you prepare for your cervical cancer screening?
Don’t schedule your screening for a time when you’ll be having your period. During the two days before your test, don’t:
(We know, we know, that’s a lot of “don’ts.”) One more: don’t panic!
What happens at a cervical cancer screening?
During your screening, your doctor uses an instrument called a speculum to widen your vagina, examine your vagina and cervix, and collect cells and mucus to send to the laboratory. If you’re also getting an HPV test, the cells will be screened for the HPV virus at the same time.
At the same time as your cervical cancer screening, your doctor may also perform a pelvic exam to make sure your uterus, ovaries and other organs are healthy.
When do you get your screening results?
Pap test results can take up to 3 weeks to process. If there is an issue with the lab results, your doctor may call you sooner.
If you fit into a low income bracket, you may qualify for a free or inexpensive Pap test through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. You can also use this mapto find low cost cervical cancer screening programs near you.
Most importantly – make it your resolution to get screened in 2014. The more you know, the better you can fight.
Talk to us in the comments! Have you had a cervical cancer screening? Do you plan to get one this year?
(Image via Ask Dr. V.)