Group of women

There’s So Much You Can Do to Protect Yourself from Cervical Cancer

Even though the number of cervical cancer cases has been dropping for the last 40 years, Latina and African American women have the highest rates of any group in the United States. And cervical cancer kills Latinas and African American women at a much higher rate than it does Caucasian women.

Unlike diseases that are genetic or inherited, the high rates of cervical cancer in our communities are due to behavior – not getting routine Pap smears and not knowing about HPV and its highly effective vaccination.

Our prescription for fighting cervical cancer? Knowledge! Read on to learn about how women of every age can protect themselves and reduce their risks.

What is Cervical Cancer?

Doctor Showing a Cervical Cancer Model

Cervical cancer happens when an abnormal group of cells starts growing in the lining of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus (where a baby grows during pregnancy). These are cells that start out normal but become pre-cancerous. In some women, these pre-cancerous cells go away on their own. In other women, these cells will turn into cervical cancer over several years – and occasionally, these cells turn into cancer in less than a year. The most common type of cervical cancer is called squamous cell carcinomas, though there are other types of cancer than can develop in the cervix.

Cervical cancer symptoms include abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, or pain during sex. Unfortunately, by the time symptoms occur, it’s likely that that cancer has already spread to nearby tissues.

When cervical cancer is caught early and treated, the outcome is very good, with a survival rate as high as 93% — that is, 93% of women who find cervical cancer at the earliest stages are still alive five years after their diagnosis or start of treatment. However, the longer cancer is left undetected and untreated the further it can spread through the body—and become more deadly.

What Causes Cervical Cancer?

Human Papilloma Virus

HPV, or human papillomavirus doesn’t cause cervical cancer 100% of the time, but an HPV infection is the biggest risk factor for getting it.
HPV is spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who is already infected with the virus. Even if the infected person has no signs or symptoms, they can still pass along HPV to a sex partner. In some cases, HPV goes away on its own and doesn’t cause health problems however, it’s best to take steps to avoid infection.

The best protection against it is the HPV vaccine: studies showed that the vaccine is nearly 100% effective in protecting against cervical precancer. The CDC recommends starting the vaccination at age 11 or 12. Women can also get it up to age 26. Check with your regular doctor for additional information.

Preventing Cervical Cancer

Teen Receives a Vaccine

In addition to the getting the HPV vaccine, your best defense is seeing your doctor or gynecologist regularly. The Pap smear is the first way doctors look for the abnormal cells. Women age 21 – 65 should receive Pap smears every three years, or women age 30-65 can be tested every 5 years if an HPV test is done at the same time as the Pap smear. Your doctor will give you the tests that are right for you.

As with many cancers, you may have inherited an increased risk from your family. There are still things you can do to protect yourself and cut your risks. Here are ways you can act immediately:

  • Stop smoking
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Practice safe sex – since some sexually transmitted diseases may increase your risk or leave you vulnerable

How to Make Your Gynecologist Screenings More Comfortable

Doctor and Patient Talking

You can empower yourself to have a comfortable and productive visit with your gynecologist by taking some of the following steps:

  • Ask to see a female doctor if you’re not comfortable with a male doctor.
  • Bring a friend or relative with you in the exam room.
  • Don’t be afraid to stop the exam and ask questions.
  • Know that whatever is happening with your body is normal and natural – and your doctor has seen it all before.
  • Understand that your visit may be a little uncomfortable, but it should never be painful. If, at any time during the exam, you feel actual pain, tell your doctor.

If you don’t have a regular gynecologist or you’d like to find someone who speaks your language, AltaMed is here for you. Use our Find a Doctor tool to search based on your preferences. You can choose the gender you’re most comfortable with, preferred language, and the city – you’ll find great AltaMed doctors who can keep you and your whole family healthy.

Get started with AltaMed

See how AltaMed Health Services can help your family grow healthy.

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Woman Smiling at 50

Health Screenings After 50

Even if you’ve lived a healthy life, as you enter your 50s, your risk of developing chronic diseases, such as arthritis, heart conditions, cancer, diabetes, and even depression increases. These diseases can take years off your life, as well as affect the quality of your life.

Getting regular screenings can help you:

  • Lower your risk of chronic disease or illness
  • Save money on your medical costs, since chronic diseases require additional medical care
  • Delay or prevent illness or disease by catching them early and treating them

Basically, there’s every reason for you to take charge of your health, especially since most preventive services and screenings are covered by most insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare!

Know What Tests You Need

These are a few of the most common screenings you need starting at age 50:

  • Women should get a mammogram every 2 years
  • Colorectal cancer screenings every year
  • Regular diabetes screenings
  • Lipid disorder screenings to monitor blood cholesterol
  • Osteoporosis screenings should start at age 60 to screen for healthy bones

The best way to stay healthy and keep up on your screenings is to get regular health checkups. Depending on your gender and your family health history, your doctor may recommend additional screenings for you.

Call us for more information about the health screenings you need at (888) 499-9303.

Cancer Survivor

Early Detection: Your Secret Weapon Against Cancer

This year, about 1.7 million people in the U.S. will find out they have cancer. But the good news is that cancer screenings and the right treatment will help nine out of 10 of them survive breast, cervical and colorectal cancer.

Here’s what you need to know about how health screenings can find cancer early.

One in every eight women will get breast cancer. Women 50 to 74 years old should get a breast exam, called a mammogram, every two years. A regular exam can help detect tumors and other signs of the disease that are hard to find.

Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the U.S. Men and women between 50 and 75 years of age have the highest risk of colorectal cancer. Getting a colonoscopy every 10 years is the best way to find and treat it. You also can use an at-home FIT kit stool test, but it should be done every year.

Cervical cancer is best treated if it’s found early. If you’re a woman 21 to 64 years old, you should get a Pap screen, which tests for cervical cancer. During that exam, you can get tested for the HPV virus, which also can cause the disease.

  • You should be screened for HPV every three years if you’re between 21 and 29 years of age or if you don’t get tested for HPV during your Pap exam.
  • If you’re over 30 years of age, you should get an HPV screening and a Pap exam every five years.

Call us at (888) 499-9303 to find out which cancer screenings you need.

There’s So Much You Can Do to Protect Yourself from Cervical Cancer