Regular screenings critical for prevention of cervical cancer
BISMARCK, N.D. – Over the past several decades, rates of cervical cancer have decreased significantly, largely due to the increase in regular screenings and prevention efforts. This includes an increase in human papillomavirus (HPV) immunization rates, a virus that most often is the cause of cervical cancer.
“HPV is a common virus that infects four in five women by the age of 50,” said Susan Mormann, Women’s Way Director for the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH). An HPV screening can detect the presence of HPV before it causes abnormal cell changes. In addition, a Pap test can detect abnormal changes in the cervical cells before they become cancer. If cancer does occur, the Pap test can find it early when it is easier to treat.
The HPV vaccine is highly effective at preventing an HPV infection and HPV-related cancers. It is recommended that both boys and girls should receive the HPV vaccine starting at ages 11 and 12. According to the National Immunization Survey, 76.7% of North Dakota teens ages 13 – 17 have started the HPV series.
Additionally, catch-up vaccination is recommended for everyone through age 26 not adequately vaccinated. HPV screenings are still recommended even with an HPV vaccination.
“Most of the time the body’s immune system will fight off the virus and cause it to go away on its own,” said Mormann. “However, HPV has also been known to cause abnormal changes in the tissue of the cervix which can lead to cervical cancer. Most people with HPV do not develop symptoms which is why regular screenings are critical for prevention.”
It is recommended that starting at age 21, women should have a Pap test every three years. Women ages 30 to 65 can now co-test, which means they receive an HPV screening during a Pap test. Women should be co-tested every five years. Women with certain risk factors should be screened at different frequencies and all women should discuss screening with their health care provider.
Women's Way provides a way to pay for most cervical cancer screenings for eligible North Dakotans. Find more information on Women’s Way, screening for cervical cancer and options for financial help available, by visiting www.ndhealth.gov/womensway or calling 800-449-6636 or 701-328-3398.