By Sara Bondell - January 14, 2021
During the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a substantial decline in cancer screening. Screenings are an important tool in the early diagnosis of multiple different cancers, including cervical cancer.
Last year, the American Cancer Society (ACS) released new guidelines for cervical cancer screening. Instead of a Pap test, the new guidelines recommend human papillomavirus (HPV) primary testing every five years from age 25 to 65.
These guidelines differ from the recommendations from those from the U.S. Preventative Task Force and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists. Both groups encourage Pap tests every three years from ages 21 to 29, then co-testing with a Pap test and HPV primary test every five years from 30 to 65, or only a Pap test every three years.
The change in the ACS recommendations is due to research that shows less than 1% of cervical cancers are detected under age 25 and that screening women ages 21 to 24 results in a high rate of overtreatment.
The number of younger women diagnosed with cervical cancer is decreasing thanks to HPV vaccination. Infections with cancer and wart causing HPV strains have dropped more than 70%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A U.S. screening study found switching from Pap tests to HPV testing prevented 13% more cervical cancer cases and 7% more cervical cancer deaths.
Among the more than 40 genital mucosal HPV types identified, about 14 are known to be cancerous. Subtypes HPV 16 and 18 are found in more than 70% of all cervical cancers.
Besides screenings, Moffitt Cancer Center strongly supports HPV vaccinations to prevent HPV-related cancers. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found a reduction in cervical cancer incidence of 88% in women vaccinated prior to age 17 and 53% among women vaccinated at 17 or older.
The CDC recommends HPV vaccination for boys and girls ages 11 to 12, but the vaccine can be administered as early as 9. It is covered by most health insurance plans and many state health departments offer the vaccine for free or at a reduced cost.
Symptoms of cervical cancer include:
- Irregular or heavy bleeding
- Bleeding during or after sexual intercourse
- A vaginal discharge that may be water, thick and/or odorous. This, however, is a nonspecific finding and can also be mistaken for infections.