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  • Nicole Habibe Burgos

“Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself”: Cervical Cancer Screening

Okay ladies, let's get real for a minute. If you’re anything like me then you know this story- January 1st rolls around and we tell ourselves that this is it…this is the year we’re going to take charge of our health. This is the year of 5am workouts, green smoothies, and the year when we will finally get a consistent eight hours of sleep each night. However, when was the last time your cervical cancer screening made it to your ever-growing list of New Year's Resolutions? This year, we’re here to help you tackle the ever-dreaded infamous pap smear, the most common way to screen for cervical cancer.

Let’s start with the basics- how often do I need to get a pap smear? The frequency of this test is best understood when broken down by age. You should begin to get Pap smears at 21 years old and continue to get them every 3 years until the age of 30. Once you turn 30, you have a couple of options- 1) you can continue to get your regular Pap smear every 3 years, 2) switch to HPV testing alone every 5 years, or 3) get both a Pap smear and HPV testing every 5 years (just to be extra careful). Each of these options has pros and cons, so it's worth having a conversation with a gynecologist to decide which one is best for you. However, as long as you stick to a regular schedule, you’re doing what’s best for your health.

I have some good news for you…after age 65, you can stop testing as long as your pap smears for the last 10 years were negative. Also, if you’ve had your uterus and cervix removed and have never had an abnormal result, you don’t need a Pap either.

For an honorable mention- here’s a little info on HPV Vaccines. HPV (or human papillomavirus) is a virus that can cause cervical cancer. Luckily, we have a vaccine to protect ourselves against this virus, and therefore against cancer, that we should get before we turn 26 but recently extended to 45. However, if you have a history of abnormal pap smears, getting an HPV vaccine at any age has been shown to help clear abnormal pap findings, so be sure to see if this may help you.

It is important to note that black women have higher rates of death from cervical cancer compared to white women because they have delays in getting their pap smears and following up abnormal pap smears. The key is to get the test and stay on schedule if you have an abnormal pap to ensure any precancerous lesions are dealt with before turning into cancer.

The important lessons here are:

1. Get the HPV vaccine before 26 y

ears old. Don’t forget to talk to the children in your family about this because it starts at age 9.

2. Stick to your cervical cancer screening schedule.

This year we will finally become the healthier women we want to be…one pap smear at a time, hold the green smoothie!

-Nicole HB

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