When it comes to cervical cancer, there are a lot of myths and
misunderstandings. That includes a lot of confusion about what causes
cervical cancer — the human papillomavirus, or HPV — as well as how
the disease can be prevented and treated.
Here are five cervical cancer myths Schmeler frequently hears.
Myth #1: I need a Pap test every year.
Truth: If your Pap test and HPV test are both normal, you don’t need
to get a Pap test every year. MD Anderson
recommends the following cervical cancer screening guidelines for
women with previously normal Pap and HPV test results:
- Ages 21-29: Pap test every three years
- Ages 30-64:
Pap test and HPV test every five years
- Ages 65 and older:
Speak with your doctor about whether you need to continue Pap and
“Even if you don’t need a Pap test or HPV test, you should still get
a well-woman checkup every year,” Schmeler says. “And even if you’ve
received the HPV vaccines, you still need to be screened.”
Myth #2: HPV isn’t that common/only affects people with
multiple partners, so I don’t need to worry about the HPV vaccine or
Truth: HPV is very common. Approximately 80% of men and women are
infected with HPV at some point in their lifetime.
Myth #3: HPV infection clears up on its own.
Truth: Most people clear the HPV infection without ever knowing they
were exposed. However, in some people, the infection persists and can
lead to serious health problems, such as genital warts and several
types of cancer, including cervical cancer.
Myth #4: I can’t have children now that I’ve had cervical cancer.
Truth: Yes, cervical cancer patients typically undergo a
hysterectomy and/or chemotherapy and radiation therapy to the pelvic area. But there
are a lot of new treatment options that enable our doctors to spare
patients’ fertility so they can become parents.
For instance, Schmeler is leading a conservative surgery clinical trial for women
with low-risk, early stage cervical cancer.
For women undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy, there
are things our doctors can do to preserve fertility before starting
treatment. For instance, they can use assisted reproductive
technologies to freeze eggs and/or embryos. And for women who will
receive high doses of radiation, they can surgically move the ovaries
out of the radiation field so they’re not harmed.
Myth #5: Cervical cancer is hereditary.
“Cervical cancer is caused by HPV, so the best way to make sure your
kids don’t get it is to ensure they get the HPV vaccine,” Schmeler
says. “If you’re too old to have received the HPV vaccine, it’s
important to make sure you get your regular Pap tests, which can help
your doctor detect cervical cancer – sometimes before it’s even become
cancer. That’s when the disease is most treatable.”
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