Most women aren’t too sure about the causes of cervical cancer or how to prevent the disease, according to a recent survey from the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health (NPWH).
One thousand women age 20 or older were asked about their knowledge of cervical cancer, prevention, and HPV. HPV is the human papilloma virus which causes cervical cancer and is largely transmitted by sexual intercourse. The results showed that more than half the women surveyed did not know that cervical cancer was preventable by early screening for HPV along with routine Pap smears.
Women over 30, who are at most risk for cervical cancer, were less likely than their younger counterparts to know about HPV or to ask their health care professionals about the virus and its link to cervical cancer. Nevertheless, 90 per cent of the women over 30 reported that they considered themselves “somewhat or very familiar” with the preventative tests they needed.
“Women don’t think they need the HPV test if they’ve had normal Pap smears all their lives. However, the Pap isn’t foolproof. It’s still possible to suddenly discover you have invasive cancer despite a history of normal Paps. Getting the HPV test along with your Pap if you’re over 30 provides maximum peace of mind,” says says Susan Wysocki, NP, president and CEO of NPWH.
Another myth the survey revealed was “that women think they are out of the woods if they’re been in a long-term relationship. In fact, however, HPV can stay in the body for many years. It only takes one relationship for an infection to take hold,” explains Wysocki.
According the American Cancer Society, all females should begin cervical cancer testing within three years after they start having sexual intercourse. Annual screening with a Pap test should become a regular habit. It can be done less frequently after age 30 if consecutive Pap smears have indicated no abnormal cervical cells. Women may also consider having the newer HPV test done along with their Pap tests.
For young women and girls, an HPV vaccine (Gardasil) is now available which eventually should reduce the number of cervical cancers.