When it comes to women’s health, cervical cancer may not always receive the attention it deserves, so we spoke with Christine Kim, MD, a board-certified and fellowship-trained gynecologic oncologist with LVPG Gynecologic Oncology, part of Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute, to answer the important questions on cervical health. Kim provides care at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Pocono and LVH–Muhlenberg.
1. When should women begin having obstetrician gynecologist (OB-GYN) exams, and at what age can they stop?
In the U.S., we recommend women start Pap test screening at age 21 and repeating it every three years if results are normal. Starting at age 30, women have the option of having both a Pap and human papillomavirus (HPV) test. If both are normal, this screening can be spaced out to every five years. If a patient has had at least three previous normal Pap and HPV tests, then most women can stop further screening at age 65. Again, this depends on a patient testing regularly prior to that age and having sufficient normal screenings.
2. Why are regular cervical cancer screenings (Pap test and HPV test) important?
Sometimes there are issues that could be going on that may not be detected until a gynecologic check-up. With respect to cervical cancer screening, it is not the Pap tests themselves, but the frequency of them that has improved the ability to pick up precancerous changes. Additionally, we now have HPV testing that also helps guide which Pap tests are potentially more concerning than others. An OB-GYN checkup is also a good time for women to discuss private issues that they don’t wish to discuss with their friends or family members. For example, an OB-GYN provider will not balk at being asked about various types of contraception, vaginal dryness, vaginal discharge, vulvar itching, menstrual irregularities, pelvic pain, menopausal symptoms or other ‘private’ issues. It’s a great time to ask about the HPV vaccination or other aspects of female health, such as how much calcium to take.