Attention all women! You may want to consider as part of your new year’s resolutions to schedule a pap smear. January is Cervical Cancer Screening Month. A pap smear can find abnormal cells that may indicate cervical cancer, the tenth leading cause of cancer death.
The Department of Veterans Affairs encourages all women veterans enrolled in the VA health care system to get tested for cervical cancer. Most women veterans are within the age range where cervical cancer screening is recommended as part of a regular checkup. All women aged 21 to 65 should get pap smears every one to three years.
Approximately 50 million women get pap smears every year. Detecting cervical cancer in its earliest stages greatly improves survival rates. More than 90 percent of women can survive cervical cancer when it is localized and caught early. However, only 13 percent of women survive once cervical cancer spreads to other parts of the body.
The following are some factors that create increased risk for developing cervical cancer:
- Beginning sexual intercourse at a young age
- Having multiple sexual partners
- Smoking cigarettes
- Having a diet low in vitamins A and C
- Using oral contraceptive pills
The human papilloma virus (HPV), the same virus that causes anal and genital warts, often causes cervical cancer. About 95 percent of women with cervical cancer have evidence of HPV. Here are some ways to reduce cervical cancer risk:
- Limit the number of sexual partners and use condoms or diaphragms every time you have sex.
- Don’t smoke.
- Get regular pap smears to detect any precancerous cells.
Early detection can be lifesaving. For more information on cervical cancer or to schedule a pap smear, contact your local VA medical center.
Revision date: July 8, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD