Do you think you are safe from cervical cancer because you are in a monogamous relationship, or because you've tested negative for HPV?
Cervical cancer is cancer that originates in cells in a woman’s cervix. The cervix is the narrow, low end of the uterus that connects to the top of the vagina.
During your annual pelvic exam, your doctor may remove a small sample of cells from your cervix for a Pap smear, which is also called a Pap test. The sample is sent to a lab to check for cancerous cells or visible changes in cells that could be early signs that cancer will develop.
Most cases of cervical cancer are linked to the human papillomavirus which is transmitted through sex. So if you test positive for HPV, you may have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.
But the opposite is not necessarily true. Even if you test negative for HPV, you are not safe from the risk of cervical cancer. An HPV test can only show if you have active virus in your body at the time of the test. Even if your test is negative, you can still have dormant HPV in your body that can later lead to cervical cancer.
This also means that women who are monogamous cannot assume they are safe from cervical cancer. If your partner is ever unfaithful, or if you have dormant HPV at the time of your test, you could test positive for HPV at a later date and you are still at risk for cervical cancer.
“HPV never leaves your body,” Dr. Laura Corio, an obstetrician and associate professor at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York told the New York Times.
Since 2012, the American Cancer Society has recommended that all women ages 21 to 65 should get a Pap smear every three years. For women ages 30 to 65 who want to be tested less often, the ACS recommends a combination of a Pap smear and a test for HPV every five years.
If you have additional risk factors, your doctor may recommend that you have a Pap smear as often as every year. According to the Mayo Clinic, these risk factors include:
• Cervical cancer or precancerous cells found in a Pap smear.