FEATURE — I’d like to put to rest some rumors about Pap smears and get the most accurate information out to women in hopes of helping them make some potentially lifesaving decisions. See how you do on the following true or false quiz, and then go make some health-conscious resolutions.
1. Women should get a Pap as soon as they become sexually active, then yearly after that.
Paps should not be done before age 21, at which point if they come back normal, they should be done every 2-3 years after that.
2. Young women cannot get prescribed birth control without a pelvic exam and a Pap smear.
Women can get started on virtually any type of birth control without having a pelvic exam or a Pap.
3. Almost all cervical cancers are caused by the HPV virus.
There are low-risk and high-risk strains. Low-risk strains may cause warts but not cancer. There are no symptoms of high-risk HPV.
4. Traditional Pap smears are being replaced by HPV testing.
Right now the recommendation for women under 30 is to do “cytology,” where the cervical cells themselves are looked at. For women 30 and over, the cells are examined, and then if something suspicious is noted, an HPV test is performed.
As more data becomes available, it is likely that HPV testing at some point will replace traditional Pap cytology altogether. Right now, if an HPV test is negative after age 30, it doesn’t need to be retested for 3-5 years.
5. Paps also test for other types of cancers, like ovarian or uterine cancer.
Uterine and ovarian cancers are not caused by HPV and are not tested for by Pap smears.
6. Following screening recommendations is the No. 1 modifiable risk of cervical cancer.
Well, not having sex ever is probably the No. 1 thing you can do, next to following screening recommendations.
7. Vaccinations for are very effective, safe and appropriate for both girls and boys.
HPV vaccines are very effective and prevent not only transmission of high-risk HPV that cause cancers but also low-risk HPV that cause genital warts. The recommended age is 11-12, though it can be given up to age 26.
The vaccine can be given to people who are already sexually active and even patients who have already been diagnosed with HPV. Only 46 percent of young women age 9-26 have received at least one dose of vaccine (and only 27 percent of young men that age).
8. Vaccinating your children against HPV is promoting promiscuity – or at least admitting it is inevitable or probable.
There is no data that suggests this is true, and there is no way to predict the future. I have seen women with only one lifetime sexual partner get cervical cancer. I have seen documented cases where one man (a physician, actually) had three wives over the course of his life all die from cervical cancer.
9. Cervical cancer is most frequently diagnosed between age 35-45.
It is not a disease of an older population. Stay up-to-date on your screening.
- Dr. Sean Lynn practices at St. George Women’s Health Center in St. George | Telephone: 435-218-7770.
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