What to Know About Cervical Cancer Screening and Pregnancy

Jan 8, 2024
BY Partum Health Care TEam
Liz Swenson, MD, OBGYN, Teal Health Medical Director
pregnant woman with OB

For most women, pregnancy may be the first time you experience frequent doctors visits — not to mention symptoms that may feel very foreign in your body. From keeping track of what’s being measured, monitored, or evaluated at each appointment, to realizing that “morning” sickness is a total misnomer, you’re already focused on so many changes and benchmarks. So let’s take one worry — cervical cancer screening — off the table by understanding the recommendations for pregnant women, and what you need to know to stay on top of your screening during pregnancy. 

What are the current guidelines for pregnant women and cervical cancer screenings?

For patients who have just found out they're pregnant, they don't necessarily need extra screening for cervical cancer. Just talk to your provider to let them know when your last screening was done and what the results were. If you know you’re due for a screening, you can have it done at your prenatal visit. It's completely safe and there's no risk to the pregnancy. I do warn my patients though, it can be common to get a little spotting from the brush touching the cervix. This is not a risk of a miscarriage. 

The spotting will resolve on its own, typically within a day or two and again, is nothing to worry about. So if you need to get screened, don't delay. Know that it's very safe to do in pregnancy.

If you’re planning to conceive, should you proactively have a cervical cancer screening?

I encourage any patients who are planning to get pregnant to meet with their doctor, go over health history, medications, make sure you’re up to date on preventive care and vaccines, and determine whether you’re due for a Pap smear or HPV test. If you are not, you don't need to get an extra test. 

What are potential complications to be aware of when it comes to dysplasia/cancer treatments and pregnancy? How can women be proactive with their doctors?

If a patient gets an abnormal Pap smear result during pregnancy, your doctor will typically recommend a colposcopy. This procedure is like a long pap smear, where a doctor looks at the cervix more closely using a microscope-type device. A solution on the cervix, that is safe to use during pregnancy, allows any abnormal cells to stand out. Only if something looks really suspicious will we discuss doing a biopsy, which is removing a tiny piece of tissue to further evaluate for cancer. 

Doctors try really hard not to do anything invasive to the cervix during pregnancy, but if you need a biopsy, it's safer to find out what's going on. In the very rare case that a patient is found to have cervical cancer during pregnancy, then they would need to meet with additional specialists, including a cancer specialist and a high-risk OB specialist to decide on your best course of treatment. 

I encourage all patients to be very proactive in their healthcare and discuss with their providers their history, if they've had abnormal Paps in the past, any procedures on their cervix, etc. Also, ask questions, do your research, and be part of the discussion and decision-making.

How soon after giving birth should women receive a cervical cancer screening?

If a patient is due for cervical cancer screening soon after they've had a baby, this is usually done at the six to eight week postpartum visit. By this time, the cervix has gone back to its normal shape and routine screening can be done as well as any necessary followup from abnormalities diagnosed during the pregnancy, which can happen safely at that time.

Are there any new treatments or guidelines that should be on women’s radar?

You may have noticed that over the past few years, the recommendation for the interval to screen for cervical cancer has increased to every three to five years, depending on what screening you have done  if your results are normal. This is because the American Cancer Society decided that primary HPV testing is the preferred method for screening and this should be done every five years for people ages 25 to 65. Although you might not be due for cervical cancer screening every year, it is still important to see your doctor annually for a check-up. At Teal Health, we've developed an at-home self-collect primary HPV test, which means you can screen for cervical cancer privately and from the comfort of your own home. 

This device is similar to a tampon applicator, though slightly longer. The Teal Wand is currently undergoing clinical trials to gather support for FDA approval. Be first to know when it’s available in your state by signing up for our waitlist here.

Whether or not you’re pregnant, it’s so important for women to stay on top of their cervical cancer screenings. That’s why this Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, Teal Health is donating free screenings. Help Teal close the screening gap here.

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