Women’s wellness exam: An annual check can catch cervical cancer

Women ages 21 to 65 need a yearly well-woman exam.

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month — a good time for a friendly reminder to schedule a women’s wellness exam.

A wellness exam includes a pelvic exam, breast check, Pap smear and a mammogram, depending on your age. Getting your yearly screenings can help you stay healthy and possibly find cancer early — when treatment may be easier and more successful.

Can you prevent cervical cancer?

Every year in the United States, 31,000 women and men are diagnosed with a cancer caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. HPV is very common; one in four people currently have the virus in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

HPV can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, anus, rectum and back of throat in women. In men, it can cause cancer of the penis, anus, rectum and back of throat. Most of these cancers can be prevented with the HPV vaccine.

The CDC recommends that boys and girls get two shots of the HPV vaccine at least six months apart at ages 11 or 12, finishing the series before turning 13.

Are you under 26 and have never been vaccinated? You still may qualify for the vaccine. Talk with your health provider about getting the HPV vaccine.

My Pap smear was normal last year. Do I need a women’s wellness exam this year?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends women ages 21 and 65 get a Pap smear once every three years. Checks for breast cancer and other conditions should be more frequent, so schedule a wellness exam every year. That applies to millennials too.

In those off years, your provider will give you a pelvic exam to check for any changes, even though a Pap smear will not be performed.

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