Do you have a cervix? That means you can get cervical cancer. More than 13,000 people get cervical cancer every year, and more than 4,000 people die from it. The good news is that cervical cancer is preventable and often curable if it’s found early. Here’s what you need to know.
What’s cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is a disease where cancer cells attack your cervix — the donut-shaped organ that connects your vagina to your uterus. It’s caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) — a super common sexually transmitted infection that rarely shows symptoms and is usually harmless. Most people will get HPV in their lifetime, and the infection usually goes away on its own without causing any damage. But certain types of HPV — called high-risk HPV — can eventually lead to cervical cancer.
Who gets cervical cancer?
Latinas are diagnosed with cervical cancer more frequently than people of other races and ethnicities, and Black people die from the disease at a higher rate than other races. This is because of systemic racism and discrimination in the U.S. health care system and other institutions that make it extremely hard for some communities to get basic care. Many Latinos and Black people have limited access to screenings for cervical cancer and other types of preventive care. And they are more likely to receive lower quality care when they’re able to get it.
How can I prevent cervical cancer?
HPV usually takes a long time to cause cervical cancer, with little to no warning signs or symptoms. That’s why cervical cancer screenings, like HPV tests and Pap tests, are so important. The tests can find HPV infections and precancerous cell changes before cancer develops, so you can get treatment and stay healthy. What type of test you need and when you need it depends on your age, health history, and other factors. Generally, it’s a good idea to get an HPV test or HPV and Pap test together (called co-testing) every five years, or a Pap test every three years, from ages 25 to 65. Some people may need testing more or less often, or may choose to start testing younger, between ages 21 to 24. Your nurse or doctor can let you know which tests are right for you, and when you need to be screened.
Another way to help prevent cervical cancer is to get the HPV vaccine, which protects you from the types of HPV most likely to lead to cancer. All people ages 9 to 45 can get the HPV vaccine, but the best time to get it is around ages 11 to 12 — that way kids can be fully protected years before they become sexually active and are exposed to HPV.
Where can I get screened for cervical cancer?
You can easily get the HPV vaccine and cervical cancer screenings from your nurse, doctor, or gynecologist. Sometimes these screenings are even a part of your annual wellness exam. Most health insurance plans must cover annual wellness exams and cervical cancer screenings at no cost to you. But even if you don’t have health insurance, Planned Parenthood can talk with you about affordable care options. You may qualify for free or low-cost screenings at Planned Parenthood health centers to get the care you deserve. Make an appointment today.