Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Cervical Health
While breast cancer – and its prevention and detection – gets lots of headlines when it comes to health news, there are other areas of cancer prevention you should be having conversations about when you’re with your health care providers. Your cervical health – and the prevention and early detection of cervical cancer – is also something you should be talking about.
It’s no surprise that cervical cancer has earned the nickname “the silent killer,” as it often develops slowly and its symptoms don’t become evident until the disease has become quite advanced. Last year, nearly 14,500 new cases of invasive cervical cancer were expected to be diagnosed in U.S. women, according to the American Cancer Society. And more than 4,200 women were expected to die from this disease.
But when it comes to cervical health, pre-cancerous conditions are diagnosed at a much higher rate than invasive cancer cases. This makes prevention and early detection key – and it makes them things to talk about with your doctor to make sure you’re in tune with your cervical health.
If you need some help getting that conversation started, here are some cervical health topics you can use to frame your questions:
Pap test. Do you need one? This quick test that takes a small swab of cervical cells has been a huge life-saver when it comes to cervical health. This test can detect early cases of cervical cancer – when the cure rate is much higher – but it can also pinpoint small changes in the cervix before cancer starts.
HPV test. This is another screening tool that’s very effective, since nearly all cervical cancers are caused by HPV – the human papillomavirus. This test zeros in on any infections that might be caused by the type of HPV that’s more likely to cause pre-cancerous conditions or cervical cancer.
Your age. Your age might increase your risk of a cervical health issue. According to the American Cancer Society, the average age of a cervical cancer diagnosis is 50, and women older than 35 fall into the most frequently diagnosed group. It’s also not an issue you age away from. Women older than 65 account for more than 20% of all the cervical cancer cases.
Risk factors. Some things about your health or your activities may make you a higher risk for having cervical health issues. If any of these could be red flags for you, talk to your doctor.
- Women who smoke have double the chance of developing cervical health issues compared to
- non-smokers. The toxic chemicals in tobacco products are thought to damage cervical cells, researchers say.
HPV infections. This is the leading cause of cervical cancer. HPV viruses can be spread by skin-to-skin contact and by sexual activity. Some people with HPV develop warts on their face, hands, feet or genital areas.
Sexual history. People who became sexually active younger than 18, or who have had many sexual partners, are at a higher risk for developing cervical health issues.
For more risk factors, check the American Cancer Society’s website.
- Preventing Cervical Cancer: Why Pap Test Rules Have Changed
- Why It’s Important to Be Honest About Your Sexual History
- Protect Yourself – and Your Children – from Cervical Cancer
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