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.
We recently asked Kathleen Schmeler, M.D., co-leader of our HPV-Related Cancers Moon Shot™, to share some common myths she hears about cervical cancer prevention and treatment.
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 HPV tests
“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 HPV test.
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.
Learn more about fertility and cancer.
Myth #5: Cervical cancer is hereditary.
Truth: Though some female cancers – such as breast cancer and ovarian cancer – are passed down from parent to child, cervical cancer is not.
“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.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.