Annual Screenings and HPV Vaccination

The American Cancer Society has released new screening recommendations regarding the early detection and prevention of cervical cancer. These screenings are for women who are displaying no symptoms of cervical cancer. One of the changes the American Cancer Society no longer recommends is the annual Pap test. They have changed the requirement to every three years.

Cervical Cancer and the Annual Screening

When cells begin to grow out of control, they allow cancer to develop. All parts of your body have cells so cancer can grow in nearly every part of your body. Once the disease starts, it can spread to other areas.

Cervical cancer begins in the lining of your cervix, which is located in the lower part of your uterus, or uterine cervix. When a woman becomes pregnant, the fetus will grow in the body of the uterus, and the uterus is connected to the birth canal by the cervix. Your cervix has two parts and is covered with different types of cells:

  • Where the cervix meets the body of the uterus, the endocervix is covered by glandular cells
  • Where the cervix meets the vagina, the exocervix is covered squamous cells

The two different types of cells come together at a place called the transformation zone. The zone changes locations as you age or if you give birth. Cervical cancers start in the transformation zone in most cases. It is a gradual process as the healthy cells inside the cervix develop pre-cancerous changes that become cancer.

Doctors describe the pre-cancerous cells with several different terms; squamous intraepithelial (SIL), dysplasia, and cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. A Pap test can detect these changes and prevent cancer from developing.

It is shown that most cervical cancers begin with pre-cancerous changes, but it is not definite that a woman with pre-cancerous cells will develop cervical cancer. Generally, it takes years for cervical pre-cancer to become cervical cancer, but in some cases, it has happened in less than a year.

Many women’s pre-cancer cells will disappear without treatment, and in other cases, it becomes invasive cancer. It is best to treat cervical pre-cancer as a means to eliminate the risk of cervical cancer from developing.

Annual Screenings Can Prevent Cervical Cancer

It has been well-proven by having an annual screening, or Pap test, cervical cancer can be prevented. The testing finds conditions that can turn into pre-cancer before they become invasive cancer. The human papillomavirus (HPV), and the Pap smear (or Pap test) are both specific tests performed during a screening for cervical cancer. If pre-cancer is detected, it can then be treated and stopped.

During the Pap smear procedure, cells are collected from the cervix and then examined under a microscope to look for pre-cancer or cancer. Studies show that most invasive cancers are discovered in women who have not had regular Pap smear tests. This test can be performed during an exam of the pelvic area, but it would have to be requested as not all exams of the pelvic area include a Pap smear.

American Cancer Society Guidelines for Annual Screenings and HPV Vaccination

The ACS (American Cancer Society) has set forth guidelines for women to help cervical cancer early detection and prevention.

  • When reaching the age of 21, women should begin cervical cancer screening. Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have an annual screening, which includes a Pap smear every third year. Testing for HPV should not be added for the annual screening for this age group unless the Pap smear comes back abnormal. If an abnormal pap smear comes back, the HPV would then be part of the follow-up.
  • The Pap smear is the preferred method of screening when women turn 30, along with an HPV test every five years. This testing is called co-testing and is continued through the age of sixty-five.
  • Some women between the ages of 30 and 65 prefer to take the optional method of screening by getting tested every three years with just a Pap smear.
  • Women who have a high risk of cervical cancer such as those with HIV infection, long-term steroid use, organ transplant, or other suppressed immune system issues, should follow recommendations from their healthcare team. Women exposed to DES in utero may also need annual screening tests more often during a year.
  • When a woman reaches the age of 65 and has had annual screenings the previous ten years, and has not had any pre-cancerous found in the last twenty years should stop being screened for cervical cancer. If you have not shown any signs of (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia) CIN2, or CIN3 by the age of 65, you no longer need screening tests for cervical cancer; if you have shown signs of these cancer types, you should continue screenings for twenty years beyond the first abnormal test.
  • A woman who has had their uterus and cervix removed, a total hysterectomy, they should stop the annual screening including the Pap smear and HPV test. This recommendation is only if the hysterectomy was done as a treatment for cervical pre-cancer or cancer. If you have had a supra-cervical hysterectomy, a hysterectomy without the removal of the cervix, you should continue the annual screening for cervical cancer screening.
  • It is not necessary to be screened every year, according to the American Cancer Society.
  • If you have gotten the HPV vaccination, you should still follow these ACS guidelines.

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections and the leading cause of cervical cancer in women in the United States. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) states that almost 80 million Americans are infected with HPV and suspect that more than 14 million will become infected with this virus each year. The CDC’s data shows that more than 11,000 women have developed cervical cancer caused by the HPV virus strains. Of the 11,000 women affected with this virus, more than 3,000 of them will die. The HPV virus can also cause cancer of the anus, throat, vulva, vagina, and penis.

The first vaccine approved in the fight against HPV was Gardasil and received approval from the Food and Drug Administration in 2006. It was showing positive results in the fight against certain diseases and cancers which developed from four different strains of HPV. This vaccine has been discontinued since the approval of Gardasil 9 came through the approval process in 2014. This vaccine, the Gardasil 9, is approved for women and men between the ages of 9 to 26. Side effects from the vaccine include redness, swelling at the site, pain, nausea, joint or muscle pain, fever, or a headache.

The Gardasil 9 vaccine can be administered as early as nine years of age; however, the CDC recommends starting them at the age of 11 or 12 for both girls and boys. This age should be just before adolescents become sexually active. When receiving the vaccine before their fifteenth birthday, teens should get two doses for six to twelve months apart from each other. Young adults or teens who start the vaccine after their fifteenth birthday would be recommended to receive three doses, with the second dose from one to two months after the first, and the third six months after the first.

Since the approval of the first HPV vaccination, Gardasil in 2006, the results of this vaccine were incredibly effective. Genital warts and HPV cancers have decreased more than 70% in teenage girls and more than 60% in young women since the HPV vaccination was first introduced. If you have not received an HPV vaccine, you should contact GYN LA and find out what your options are for receiving this vital protection against cancer. These are some of the advantages of receiving the HPV vaccination:

  • Protection against pre-cancerous cervical lesions. Studies have proven that most cases of cancers reported annually could have been prevented by the HPV vaccination. The vaccine supplies your immune system with antibodies that will protect you from becoming infected. It also prevents any occurrence of cancers or warts that are caused by HPV.
  • The vaccination leads to a reduction in genital warts. A study published results showing women between the ages of 15 to 27 showed a decrease in genital warts when they followed the vaccination program. Genital warts often begin benignly but usually spread by skin-to-skin contact, which includes oral sex.
  • The vaccine prevents throat cancer. The CDC estimates more than 2,300 new cases of throat cancers are reported each year by women who have been caused by HPV and in men, it is more than 9,300 in just the United States. The popularity of oral sex with teenagers is the reason for the increase in oral cancer caused by HPV. This increase can be a lesson to teens that just because they didn’t perform intercourse with penetration, it can still lead to the transmission of disease.
  • The vaccine has been proven safe by science. Studies to test alleged side effects from fever to death were performed on a group of 30,000 participants. Half of the group were given the vaccine, while the other half received a placebo. In both groups, 0.1% of the participants died. There was no correlation between an increased risk of death if you get the HPV vaccination.
  • HPV vaccination lasts a long time. Studies have proven that the HPV vaccine will protect you for no less than eight years from the virus. The count of antibodies in your immune system is higher after your vaccination when compared to natural infection.
  • Potential side effects are cause for concern. The HPV vaccine is endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Cancer Institute. There are still some doctors who are hesitating to use the vaccine with individual patients due to possible side effects. The side effects range from fever to more severe symptoms such as anaphylaxis.
  • You are not entirely risk-free from cancer. HPV infects the cells lining of the body cavities and your skin. Most times, it causes zero symptoms and is self-limiting as it will not go away without intervention. The risk comes when it encourages cells to divide faster than they usually would, which can cause the appearance of warts or lead to the formation of cancer.

In most cases, you receive vaccinations for illnesses you are worried about contracting, and after receiving the vaccine, you assume that you are now risk-free from the disease. This risk-free assumption is not the case with the HPV virus, as there is no guarantee of not developing cancer. There are many other causes of cancer that can make the cells proliferate at a quicker-than-normal rate.

  • HPV vaccination provides peace of mind. Unusually, the HPV virus does not cause any symptoms, and you are not even aware you’ve been affected. If you have not had the vaccination, you could spend your life wondering if it’s possible you have contracted the disease. If you have the vaccination, you can feel safe in the knowledge that you are safe.
  • HPV vaccination reduces the chances of Verruca. HPV vaccinations can reduce the appearance of warts as it prevents the wanton spread of skin cells, which can create these blemishes. The creation of these blemishes is how Verrucas forms as well. When you get the HPV vaccination, you reduce your risk of getting Verruca.
  • Benefits far outweigh the pain of the injection. Vaccines can be painful. Many adults are put off from the idea of receiving the vaccine because they are afraid of shots and of the pain involved receiving an injection. While the pain or discomfort is possible from the needle, and possibly it may leave a slight red mark; the complications from HPV such as cancer are far more life-altering.

Annual Screenings and Who Should Have Them

There are women you think they should stop cervical cancer screening, annual screenings, once they are no longer having children. This belief is false. The American Cancer Society guidelines state that women should continue to follow their rules. Even though annual screenings are not necessarily needed unless you have had an abnormal screening in which case you may need to have follow-up Pap tests every six months to a year.

If you’ve been diagnosed with cervical cancer, HIV infection, or cervical pre-cancer, the American Cancer Society guidelines do not apply to you. In these cases, women are suggested to have a follow-up cervical cancer screening and testing as determined by their healthcare team at Gyn LA.

Screening tests for cervical cancer are your best chance of survival. When pre-cancerous cells are found early, you have a much better chance of preventing the cells from developing into cervical cancer. Most of the cases involving cervical cancers found in women are in those who have not had a Pap smear testing or have not had one recently.

Find an Annual Screening and HPV Vaccination Near Me

If you need to schedule an annual screening for cervical cancer or have questions regarding HPV vaccination, call GYN LA at 310-375-8446. We are a comprehensive healthcare clinic providing quality healthcare for women of all ages. Call us and schedule an appointment today to discuss your healthcare needs.