Scheduling that annual Pap smear may not be at the top of your to-do list—and hey, we get it. It’s not exactly the sexiest appointment to pencil in your planner. But would you upgrade your priorities if you knew that appointment could save your life?
That’s right, save your life.
Women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer are more likely to survive if the cancer is caught via Pap test (compared to being detected due to symptoms), reports a recent study published in the journal BMJ.
Swedish researchers monitored 1,230 women who were diagnosed with cervical cancer between 1999-2001. And after tracking the women for an average follow-up of 8.5 years—the researchers found that those whose cancer was caught with the Pap test had a 92% cure rate (versus a 66% cure rate for the symptom-based diagnosis).
But why exactly are the Pap-receivers better off? It all boils down to early detection.
For most women, Pap tests are usually done on an annual basis, therefore these tests are more likely to spot the cancer at an early, more treatable stage, the study authors conclude.
And how exactly does this Swedish data apply to you? Well according to the American Cancer Society, there will be roughly 12, 200 cases of invasive cervical cancers diagnosed this year in the US. And what’s more, over 4,200 of those women will die from this cancer.
So if that data doesn’t sit well with you, here’s what you can do to protect yourself.
For starters, know what to look out for. The Center for Disease Control claims that symptoms of cervical cancer may include abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain during sex, or abnormal discharge that’s tinged with blood.
And as for when to get checked—this will vary from person to person. But here’s a good rule of thumb from the ACS: Women should begin cervical cancer screening about 3 years after they begin having vaginal intercourse, but no later than 21 years old. Screening should be done every year with the regular Pap test or every 2 years using the newer liquid-based Pap test. (And for more info on cervical cancer, check out the guidelines on the American Cancer Society’s website.)