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Women’s Health Month: Cervical Cancer Awareness

Essential to the women’s health is a healthy reproductive system. And when it comes to gynecologic health, research has shown a positive outlook overall for cervical cancer in women for nearly five decades.

The number of cases of cervical cancer has declined more than half since the 1970s largely due to preventative measures available to women such as pap smears and the human papillomavirus virus (HPV) vaccine.

While cervical cancer often has no symptom in its early stages, common signs include unusual pain during sexual activity or bleeding between menstrual cycles.

A report released in January by the American Cancer Society shows that while there has been a decline in cervical cancer cases overall, that trend has reversed for women aged 30–44 years. It reports that rates increased by 1.7% per year from 2012 through 2019 in that age group.

“It’s very silent. In cases where I have seen concerns have been like strange pelvic pressure pain and abnormal bleeding in between regular menses,” said Erika Martinez-Uribe, MD, with Internal Medicine, Piedmont in Newnan. “That would be sort of late stages, which is why the cervical cancer screening is so important is because you just don't know. A lot of times it's very simple asymptomatic until it's very advanced.”

According to the ACS, cervical cancer is most frequently diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44, with the average age being 50.

Cervical cancer – a growth of abnormal cells that begins in the cervix, the lower part of the uterus – is caused by HPV, which is most commonly spread through sex or through close skin-to-skin touching during sex.

The CDC reports that approximately 11,500 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S. and about 4,000 women die of this cancer. However, when diagnosed early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable forms of cancer, as long as it is detected early and managed effectively.

One of the most important things you can do to prevent cervical cancer are to get a regular pap smear.

The United States Preventative Services Task Force recommends a pap smear every three years for women ages 21 to 65, and more frequently for women who have an abnormal pap smear. Pap smears can be performed at an obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN) office, though some primary care physicians can also perform the exam. Availability must be confirmed with your doctor before scheduling an exam.

“During that time of getting your exam, your doctor can talk to you about symptoms you might be having or risks that you might have that put you at risk for other female cancers like uterine cancer or ovarian cancer, which require other tests,” said Patrick Railey, MD, Chief of Primary Care, Piedmont. “And if you've not visited a GYN in three years, at any age, you need to go and develop that individual action plan. They'll look at your reproductive history, and they'll design a plan that fits you as far as cervical cancer screening goes.”

Who should get the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is another proactive way to help prevent cervical cancer. The vaccine has been known to prevent more than 90% of HPV-attributable cancers and is available to both females and males.

ACS data shows that rates of cervical cancer have dropped significantly in women in their 20s, who were among the first to get the HPV vaccine when it became available in the mid-2000s.

The CDC recommends:

  • Two doses of the HPV vaccine at ages 11-12 at least six to 12 months apart. The vaccination can be started as early as age 9.
  • Children aged 9 through 14 years who have received two doses of HPV vaccine less than 5 months apart will need a third dose.
  • Teens and young adults through age 26 years who didn’t start or finish the HPV vaccine series will need the HPV vaccination.
  • If the HPV vaccine is taken after age 15, the CDC recommends three doses.
  • Three doses for people aged 9 through 26 years who have weakened immune systems.

According to the CDC, getting the HPV vaccine past age 26 years has less benefit, as more people in this age range have likely already been exposed to HPV; However, the decision to get the vaccine after age 26 can be discussed with your health care provider.

The HPV vaccine can be administered at Piedmont Urgent Care, Piedmont QuickCare and Piedmont primary care locations. To find a convenient location, visit

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