Dr. Blake Horton is currently a second year Family Medicine resident at the Washington Health System. He was born and raised in Albany, New York. He attended Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York studying Biology with minors in Psychology and Chemistry. Afterwards, he attended Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for medical school. When he isn’t studying or working, he enjoys obsessing over his fantasy football teams and having the Pittsburgh Steelers dictate his mood between the months of September and February.

Cervical Health Awareness Month

With January being Cervical Health Awareness month, it’s a good reminder to make sure you are up to date on your own cervical cancer screenings. Cervical cancer used to be a leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States. Thanks to screening with Pap smears and prevention with HPV vaccines, the impact of cervical cancer has been greatly reduced. Still, nearly 14,000 women are projected to receive a diagnosis of cervical cancer over the next year and approximately 4,310 of them will die from the disease according to the National Cancer Institute. So, what can you do to protect yourself?

Vaccinate Early – Cervical cancer is linked to an infection with the human papillomavirus, or HPV for short. The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that cause almost 90% of cervical cancers. The CDC recommends vaccination at ages 11-12, but men and women can receive the vaccine up to age 45. If the vaccine series is started before age 15, only two doses of the vaccine are needed. From ages 15-26, a three-dose series is recommended.

Screen Regularly – Anyone with a uterus should start screening with a Pap smear at age 21. This involves a speculum exam with a brush/spatula inserted into the vagina to collect cells of the cervix (the opening between the vagina and uterus). These cells are looked at under a microscope for any abnormal or precancerous changes in the cell of the cervix, also known as cervical dysplasia. Just because cervical dysplasia is found does not mean that someone has or will get cervical cancer, but it does mean that your doctor will want to monitor your cervix more frequently than someone who does not have those changes. Starting at age 30, there are several options available for screening: a Pap smear alone every three years, co-testing with a Pap and HPV test every three to five years, or an HPV test alone every three to five years. An HPV test is done using the same sampling method as a Pap smear and checks for high-risk types of HPV that are most commonly found in cervical cancer. After age 65, people who have had adequate prior screening and are not otherwise at high risk for cervical cancer can stop screening. You also do not need to be screened if you have had a hysterectomy with removal of the cervix.

A Pap smear can be done at either a family medicine or ob/gyn office depending on your own comfort and convenience. Make an appointment with your doctor today to get vaccinated against HPV and catch up on cervical cancer screening.