LiveSmart: Screenings, Vaccination Critical in Preventing Cervical Cancer

[This piece was written by Anne Lawton, RN, community liaison, St. Peter’s Hospital Cancer Care Center, who is also a facilitator of The Butt Stops Here tobacco cessation program.]

Nearly one thousand women are diagnosed and 300 die of cervical cancer each year in New York state. Yet, cervical cancer is preventable through vaccination, regular screening and medical follow up.

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month, which makes now the perfect time to talk about the steps you can take to prevent cervical cancer in yourself, as well as those you love.

Early signs of the disease include:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Bleeding after intercourse
  • Painful intercourse
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic or back pain

The single most important thing you can do to prevent cervical cancer is to get screened regularly starting at age 21. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening for cervical cancer every three years in women aged 21 to 29 years via the papanicolaou (Pap) test or smear. The Pap smear is a cytology-based screening that is very reliable and effective for detecting abnormal cells before they become cancerous.

For women aged 30 to 65 years, the USPSTF recommends screening:

  • Every three years with cervical cytology alone;
  • Every five years with high-risk human papillomavirus (hrHPV) testing alone; or
  • Every five years with hrHPV testing, in combination with cytology (known as cotesting).

Getting regular Pap tests helps your doctor detect any changes in the cells of your cervix, including the presence of the human papillomavirus (HPV) virus. Early detection is vital and getting appropriate medical follow up provides a high cure rate.

More than 95 percent of cervical cancers are caused by HPV, which makes getting the HPV vaccine critical. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children, both boys and girls, get the vaccine to protect against HPV as early as age nine, with two doses providing the necessary protection under age 15. Three doses will be necessary if the child begins receiving the vaccine after the age of 15.

Risk factors for cervical cancer include sexual intercourse at an early age; multiple sexual partners; and long-term oral contraceptive use. Tobacco use is strongly linked to more aggressive cervical disease and with poorer outcomes, so quitting if you are a smoker is a great goal for 2019. For information on the Butt Stops Here program and tobacco cessation options, visit

At St. Peter’s Cancer Care Center, we take pride in offering a treatment approach that is patient-centered and supported by a multidisciplinary team for treatment planning. St. Peter’s Hospital was named one of America’s Best Hospitals for Cancer Care by the Women’s Choice Award in 2017 and 2018.

If you have questions, please call St. Peter’s Hospital Cancer Line at 518-525-1547.

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