Follow-Up After Cervical Cancer Treatment
Regular pelvic exams and Pap smears are important for every woman. These tests are no less important for a woman who has been treated for precancerous changes or for cancer of the cervix.
Follow-up care should include a full pelvic exam, Pap smear, and other tests as indicated on a regular schedule recommended by your gynecologist. These precautions are necessary to allow early detection should the cancer return.
Cervical cancer treatment may cause side effects many years later. For this reason, you should continue to have regular checkups and should report any health problems that appear.
Cervical Cancer Prevention
The key to preventing invasive cervical cancer is to detect any cell changes early, before they become cancerous. Regular pelvic exams and Pap tests are the best way to do this. How often you should have a pelvic exam and Pap test depends on your individual situation, but here are guidelines:
A Pap test is recommended starting when women reach 21 years of age.
test with a human papillomavirus (
) test can safely extend the interval between
screenings from three years to five years in many women between the ages of 30-65, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).
Also according to USPSTF guidelines, HPV testing is not recommended for women in their 20s because people in that age group can have HPV infections that resolve without treatment.
Women over age 65 can stop getting screened if they’ve had at least three consecutive negative Pap tests or at least two negative HPV tests within the previous 10 years, according to the guidelines. But some women who have a history of a precancer should continue to be screened for at least 20 years.
And women of any age who’ve had a
with removal of the cervix and no history of cervical cancer or precancers do not need to be screened, according to the guidelines.
Avoidance of HPV infection is becoming increasingly important in the prevention of precancerous and cancerous changes of the cervix. Prevention measures include:
- Abstinence from sex is recommended as one way to prevent the transmission of HPV.
- Likewise, barrier protection, such as condom use, may prevent HPV infection, although this has not yet been fully studied.
- Two vaccines to protect women from cervical cancer are now available. Gardasil is approved for use in males and females ages 9 to 26. It protects against two strains of HPV (types 16 and 18) that account for the development of 70% of cervical cancers and over 50% of precancerous lesions of the cervix, vulva, and vagina. Gardasil may protect against the types of HPV (6 and 11) which are associated with over 90% of the cases of genital warts. A second vaccine, Cervarix, also targets HPV types 16 and 18. It is approved for use in females ages 9 to 25.
Cigarette smoking is another risk factor for cervical cancer that can be prevented. Quitting smoking may decrease your chances of developing the disease.