McLaren Flint Physician Discusses Minimizing Risk of Cervical Cancer

Author: McLaren Flint

Routine screening is your biggest ally in the fight against cervical cancer and unlike other cancers, cervical cancer also has a preventative vaccination for those who qualify.

We have come a long way in preventing cervical cancer and catching it early. According to the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer deaths among women. Though the death rate has dropped with increasing screening options, the rate has not changed in the last decade.

Cervical cancer is almost exclusively related to infection with certain high-risk strains of the cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV), which is spread by direct sexual contact. Women can be more prone to HPV if they become sexually active at a young age or have multiple sexual partners. There are also risk factors such as tobacco smoking or having a weakened immune system that can lead to an increased chance of the persistence of HPV infection and ultimately, cervical cancer.

A woman’s chances of preventing cervical cancer start with her routine screening examination. Benjamin Mize, MD, gynecologic oncologist at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint, encourages women to receive routine gynecologic evaluations regularly, such as Pap and human papillomavirus tests. 

“With routine screening, almost all cervical cancer can be detected in the precancer or early cancer stages,” said Dr. Mize. “Most women in these early stages will be without symptoms and the cancer will be found only during routine screening. The testing usually begins at age 21 and continues to at least age 65 if no prior abnormal testing is found, but possibly longer. The goal of screening tests is to detect cervical abnormalities before they become cancer so they can be more easily treated, and cancer can be prevented.”

If there are warning signs or symptoms associated with cervical cancer, they might include abnormal vaginal bleeding, particularly after intercourse or between menstrual cycles, abnormal or unusual vaginal discharge, or worsening pelvic pain. If you have any of these, see your physician right away.

Another measure of prevention against cervical cancer is the HPV vaccine. The CDC recommends this vaccine for children and young adult women and men. It protects from HPV infections that could lead to cervical cancer later in life.

“Current HPV vaccine recommendations from the CDC are for routine vaccination at age 11 or 12, but can be started at age 9,” said Dr. Mize. “For those who did not receive vaccinations at that age, the CDC recommends vaccination up to age 26 if not previously vaccinated.”

Cervical cancer can be detected early. This disease typically develops in women between the ages of 30 and 50, but this cancer is not exclusive to that age group.

“You can also reduce your risk of cervical cancer through healthy lifestyle practices including safer sex practices and avoiding smoking,” said Dr. Mize.

Women should be proactive in their health and see a gynecologist routinely beginning at age 21. Speak to your physician to find out which test is right for you.

Patients younger than 21 should discuss with their doctor when they should start preventative screenings. Patients should inquire about the HPV vaccine with their primary care provider or gynecologist.

To learn more about cervical cancer prevention and early detection, visit