Exams, lifestyle keys for cervical health

Cervical cancer rates have plummeted in the U.S. in the last half-century, thanks to Pap smears, but there are other steps women can take to help protect themselves.

Dr. Debra Richardson, a gynecologic oncologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, says those action items include:

  • Undergoing yearly pelvic exams with Pap smears. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently changed its guidelines regarding Pap smears, now advising that screening should begin at age 21 and should be continued every other year for women ages 21 to 29. Some women, such as those with HIV, should be screened more often. The frequency of screening at age 30 and older depends on the woman’s health and the results of previous cervical cancer screenings.
  • Getting vaccinated against the human papilloma virus (HPV). Nearly all cervical cancer is caused by the sexually transmitted HPV, but vaccines exist against two types of HPV that account for about 70 percent of cancers. Although it remains unclear how effective condoms are at preventing HPV infection, research has demonstrated that having multiple sexual partners or starting sexual activity when young increases a woman’s risk for infection, Dr. Richardson says.
  • Quitting the smoking habit. Smoking has shown to increase the risk of HPV infection.

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month.

Media Contact: Aline McKenzie

Return to January 2010 News Tips