Staying on Top of Cervical Health

Preventative Measures to Prioritize

Roughly 11,500 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States, and cervical cancer accounts for about 4,000 deaths annually. Luckily, there are a number of ways to reduce your risk and manage your cervical health. In honor of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, we spoke with Dr. Jordan Staton of Galen Obstetrics & Gynecology to share important information about protecting yourself and your loved ones from this disease.

What is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is an abnormal growth of cells that originates in the cervix. Cervical cancer may not cause any symptoms when it first begins to develop, but as the cancer progresses it can begin to cause:

  • Vaginal bleeding not related to menstruation
  • Menstrual bleeding that is abnormally heavy or long lasting
  • Changes in vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pain or pain resulting from intercourse

Cervical cancer is often treated with surgery to remove the cancer as a first line of defense, but additional options include chemotherapy, targeted medicines, and radiation therapy. If left untreated, cervical cancer can continue to spread into surrounding tissues and cause further complications.

woman holding cervical health ribbon on stomach

What Causes Cervical Cancer?

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus, which is a common infection transmitted through sexual contact. When exposed to HPV, the body’s immune system will typically prevent severe complications. Unfortunately, the virus can survive for years in some cases, which contributes to the process that transforms cervical cells into cancer cells. The best way to reduce this risk is to get vaccinated against HPV and follow up with routine screening tests.

Screening Options for Cervical Cancer

Pap Smear: A Pap smear, also known as a Pap test, involves collecting cells from the cervix and is usually done during routine pelvic exams to screen for cervical cancer cells. Even if you feel perfectly healthy, it is important to keep up with routine testing. If cancer cells do begin to develop in the cervix, you have more options for treatment and a higher chance of avoiding complications when the cancer is detected in its early stages.

HPV Test: HPV testing involves collecting cells from the cervix to check for the presence of the virus and is only approved for use on cells from the cervix. Your doctor will likely recommend HPV testing after you reach 30 years of age or if abnormal cells are detected during a Pap smear.

Are there any risk factors for cervical cancer that women should know about?

“We can’t always predict which women will develop cervical cancer, but there are a few risk factors that can make it more likely. Smoking is one of the main risks that can be controlled by the patient. Other risks include problems with the immune system such as HIV and certain medications that reduce the body’s ability to fight infection.” – Dr. Staton

When should women begin scheduling Pap smears and how often should they be tested?

“Routine screening should start at age 21, regardless of whether or not women are sexually active or pregnant. The American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology recommends Pap smears every three years up to age 30, then Pap smears with additional HPV screening every five years until age 65. Women with a history of abnormal Pap smears or other risk factors will need to be screened more frequently, as will women who have unusual symptoms such as abnormal bleeding or discharge. Even if you don’t need cervical cancer screening every year, I still encourage annual visits to review your women’s health concerns and pelvic exams to check on your other reproductive organs.” – Dr. Staton


The HPV vaccine helps prevent cervical cancer by limiting the chances of HPV surviving in your cervix after exposure to the virus. Though HPV is transmitted through sexual contact, the vaccine is most effective when administered before there is any contact with the virus. For this reason, doctors typically recommend vaccinating against HPV at the age of 9-12 up to 26. The vaccination is not recommended for anyone older than 26, but adults who are under the age of 45 and have not already been vaccinated can choose to receive the vaccine after weighing the pros and cons with their physicians.

While the HPV vaccine is highly effective at preventing HPV infection, it does not entirely eliminate the possibility of developing cervical cancer. Even if you have received the vaccine, it is important to stay on top of routine Pap smears as recommended by your physician.

Is there anything else you think more women should know about cervical health?

“Cervical cancer is preventable with regular screening and close attention to follow up for any abnormal results. Make a plan to see a gynecologist you trust and you will be empowered to make decisions about your cervical health.” – Dr. Staton

child getting vaccination
Picture of Jordan Staton, MD, FACOG

Jordan Staton, MD, FACOG

Specialist in Obstetrics & Gynecology, Galen Medical Group

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