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Cervical Cancer Awareness Month: Schedule Your Screening

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January is recognized as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, highlighting the benefits of routine screenings. Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer deaths for American women, but today it is considered one of the most treatable and preventable. Yet, the Hawai’i Department of Health reports that only about 80 percent of women who are living in the state and eligible have been screened. Make your health a priority this new year by learning more about cervical cancer and the available screenings.

Cervical cancer is a disease that happens when the cells lining the cervix, or the body part that connects the uterus to the vagina, grow out of control. This type of cancer usually develops slowly over time. Normal cells will gradually change and form abnormalities. They become known as pre-cancer cells. If not removed or destroyed, these cells can become cancer within the cervix and eventually spread to other areas of the body.

Dr. Bliss Kaneshiro, an obstetrician gynecologist at Queen’s says, “Early detection is essential. Screening offers the chance to find abnormalities before they ever progress to cancer. It also allows us to diagnose cancer early when treatment can be the most successful. Prior to the introduction of the pap smear, cervical cancer was one of the deadliest cancers in the United States. In parts of the world without access to testing, it continues to be a common reason for cancer-related death.”

Cervical cancer screenings should begin at age 25 and be routinely done through age 65. There are three main tests to detect cancer or pre-cancer cells, including: HPV test, Pap test, and HPV/Pap CoTest.

HPV (Human Papillomavirus) Test:

With this test, physicians can identify the high-risk HPV types (sexually transmitted infections) that are most likely to cause cervical cancer. Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. This test should be completed every five years. 

Pap (Papanicolaou) Test:

Commonly referred to as the Pap smear, this screening collects cells from the cervix and examines them for abnormalities. This is the most recognized screening and has been successful in preventing cancer for decades. A Pap test should be completed every three years.

HPV/Pap CoTest:

An HPV test and Pap test are used together to check for both high-risk HPV types and cervical cell changes. Women who receive the HPV/Pap CoTest screening should do it every five years. 

Dr. Kaneshiro also recommends the HPV vaccine, which is effective at preventing cervical cancer. The vaccine is usually completed between the ages of 9 and 12, for both boys and girls, but it can also be given to young adults through the age of 26. 

These screenings may need to take place more often based on your medical history or an abnormal test result. Be sure to speak with your healthcare team to determine the right plan for you. 

Queen’s is a proud participant of The Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program (BCCCP). In partnership with the Hawai’i Department of Health, women can access regular cervical cancer screenings and pap tests.

1 https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/about/key-statistics.html

2 https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer.html

3 https://hhsp.hawaii.gov/assets/pdf/HHSP_Cancer_Plan_WEB.pdf

4 https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2020/cervical-cancer-screening-hpv-test-guideline

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