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Health Dept.: Cervical cancer questions and answers

What is cervical cancer?

The cervix is the opening to a woman’s uterus (womb). Cancer that grows on the cervix is called cervical cancer. Cervical cancer usually starts very slowly, making it one of the most preventable cancers.

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Are there symptoms?

Early cancers of the cervix usually do not cause symptoms. A woman who experiences any unusual symptoms should notify her healthcare provider. Examples of unusual symptoms include:

· Vaginal bleeding that is not normal for you, such as bleeding after sex.

· Any kind of unusual vaginal discharge.

· Pelvic pain.

Symptoms can be a sign of other health problems, not just cervical cancer.

What causes cervical cancer?

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV (human papillomavirus). HPV is very common, and men can be infected, too.

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The National Cervical Cancer Coalition estimates that there are approximately 79 million people in the United States who have HPV. In addition to cervical cancer, HPV can cause cancer of the vagina and vulva in women; cancer of the penis in men; and anal cancer, mouth/throat cancer, and genital warts in men and women.

Is there a test for cervical cancer?

A screening test called a Pap test can find cervical cancer and decreases a woman’s chance of dying from cervical cancer. The Pap test is a simple test that collects and looks at cells from the surface of the cervix. If the cells are abnormal, a doctor will ask for more tests to be done. When pre-cancerous cells are found and taken out of the cervix, cervical cancer can be prevented. Regular Pap tests can find cancer before it starts.

Who should get a Pap test?

Women should start getting regular Pap tests at age 21. It is important to get Pap tests regularly. Depending on your age and Pap test history, your provider may also test you for HPV.

Can HPV be prevented?

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There is a vaccine that protects both girls and boys against HPV and the cancers/genital warts that HPV can cause. The HPV vaccine is recommended for girls and boys, 11 or 12 years old (and up until age 26 for those who haven’t been vaccinated yet).

How can I pay for a Pap test or HPV vaccine?

If you have health insurance, check with your insurer to learn about your benefits and coverage. If you do not have insurance, you can still get regular Pap tests. Options for cervical cancer screening coverage in Maryland include:

· Go to Maryland Health Connection (marylandhealthconnection.gov) to find out if you qualify for Medicaid or for financial help to buy health insurance. Or call the Maryland Health Connection at 1-855-642-8572.

· Maryland’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program (BCCP) provides breast and cervical cancer screening, diagnosis, and patient navigation services to women across the state.​ A woman who is a Maryland resident aged 21 to 64 years old may qualify for cervical cancer screening services at no cost if she meets certain eligibility requirements.

· If you are a woman who lives in Carroll County, call the Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program (BCCP) at the Carroll County Health Department, 410-876-4423. Or visit cchd.maryland.gov/health-services-bccp.

· The Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program is a federal program that offers vaccines at no cost for eligible children, ages 18 and under, through VFC-enrolled doctors. Call 410-404-4128 for more information.

Anne Grauel, M.P.H., is a community health educator with the Carroll County Health Department.

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