January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and one study shows late-stage cervical cancer is on the rise.
Doctors say it could be linked to the pandemic, but could also be because of a change in guidelines for pap smears. Before, women were told to get them done annually. Now it’s every three years, or in some cases, every five years.
“It’s sort of hard to count by threes. And it’s very easy to kind of lose track of when your pap smear was, and our guidelines are such that if it’s done one way, then it’s a slightly different screening protocol. And I think that may be one of the issues that has led to an identification of more advanced cervix cancer that we’re seeing in the United States," Dr. Robert DeBernardo, the Section Head for Gynecologic Oncology at Cleveland Clinic, said.
Cervical cancer is cancer of the cells in the cervix, which is the lowest part of a woman’s uterus. Early stages of cervical cancer don’t usually have symptoms and can be hard to detect, which makes routine pap smears extremely important. Pap smears helps identify any abnormal cells. When there are symptoms of cervical cancer, they can include bleeding after sex, pelvic pain and vaginal discharge that contains blood.
Dr. DeBernardo said cervical cancer is preventable, and is often the caused by the sexually transmitted infection HPV. That's why he said testing for HPV is equally as important. He also recommends the HPV vaccine. Both men and women between the ages of 11 and 45 years old are eligible.
“We developed a vaccine years ago. There are several on the market. They are extremely effective at preventing cancer. In Australia, where uptakes of vaccines are high, they are seeing a decrease in the amount of cervix cancer in that country," Dr. DeBernardo said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there are about 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed every year in our country, and 4,000 deaths.