For Cervical Health Awareness Month this January, we’re getting real about the disease. After all, more than 14,000 cases of invasive cervical cancer were detected last year alone—but, with proper testing and vaccination, up to 93% of cervical cancers can actually be prevented. Here, with some help from The Pill Club’s very own Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Amy Roskin, we debunk the cervical cancer myths that have been percolating on social media and online so that you can take your health into your own hands.
1. Cervical cancer cannot be prevented.
That’s a myth and a dangerous one! Cervical cancer can be prevented! In fact, the CDC estimates up to 93% of cervical cancers are preventable (CDC). The best ways to prevent cervical cancer are the HPV vaccine, and getting screened for cervical cancer based on your age and history.
2. Cervical cancer is not common.
Thankfully, with the combination of HPV vaccination and screening tests, the rates of cervical cancer are decreasing. However, the American Cancer Society estimates that over 14,000 cases of invasive cervical cancer were diagnosed in 2021 (ACS).
3. The cause of cervical cancer is unknown.
Myth! Cervical cancer is generally caused by longstanding infection with certain types of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Over time, in some people, the virus can cause changes in the cervical cells, which can ultimately lead to cancer.
4. Cervical cancer is hereditary.
In general, no. Because cervical cancer is usually caused by HPV, it’s not considered hereditary (MDAnderson).
5. I’m more likely to get cervical health cancer if I’ve had multiple partners.
That’s true in that there is an association between having multiple partners and having an increased risk of cervical cancer. This is thought to be due to a higher likelihood of HPV infection.
6. I should get an annual Pap test to screen for cervical cancer.
Most people no longer need a Pap test every year for screening. The American Cancer Society reports that cervical cancer is most frequently diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44 (ACS), but you should get tested beginning at the age of 21. The specifics depend on your particular history and risk factors—the current recommendation (ACOG) by the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF) is:
Age <21: No screening
Age 21-29: Pap test every 3 years
Age 30-65: Any one of these: Pap every 3 years, Pap plus HPV test every 5 years, FDA approved HPV test every 5 years
Age>65: Screening may not be necessary
7. I don’t need to get screened because I don’t have any symptoms.
No, you should get screened because this way you can prevent cervical cancer. Remember: early on, you might not have any symptoms!
8. I’ve received the HPV vaccine, so I don’t need Pap tests.
It’s great you got the HPV vaccine, but just because you lowered your risk of getting cervical cancer you still need to be screened to improve prevention and lower your risk even further.
9. Cervical cancer cannot be treated.
Not true! It can be treated with surgical procedures including hysterectomy, radiation treatment, and chemotherapy (Mayo Clinic).
10. I can’t have a baby, if I’ve had cervical cancer.
That depends on what type of cancer treatment you had. Some people can get pregnant after early stage cervical cancer surgery that did not involve a hysterectomy. Some people are able to freeze eggs or embryos prior to their treatment and can use a gestational carrier if they had a hysterectomy or other treatment that might negatively impact successful pregnancy.