Cancer Women's Health

Cervical Cancer is Preventable: Life-Saving Actions You Should Take

January 31, 2019

Cervical Cancer is Preventable: Life-Saving Actions You Should Take

Women shouldn’t have to die from cervical cancer and it is preventable – if you take action. For a physician, that’s the best possible news, we have the tools we need to help women protect themselves.

The Numbers Associated With Cervical Cancer

Getting women to take advantage of those tools is our challenge. A study published in the Journal of Women’s Health found that just over half of US women age 21 to 29 and less than two-thirds of women age 30 to 65 were up-to-date with cervical cancer screenings. It’s, in the words of the researchers’ report, “unacceptably low.”

It may be that women just don’t know what they need to do, or why. As poet Maya Angelou famously said, “when you know better, do better.”

We know better about cervical cancer, and we can do better. These numbers may help you understand the importance of taking action:

  • >13,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year
  • >4,000 die as a result
  • >90% of cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • >93% of cervical cancers can be prevented by early screenings and HPV vaccinations

How Does HPV Cause Cervical Cancer?

If you haven’t heard of human papillomavirus, or HPV, you may be surprised to find out it’s extremely common. At any time, there are approximately 79 million people in the U.S. with HPV.

An infected person usually has no visible signs or noticeable symptoms of the virus. Most HPV infections resolve on their own, but lasting HPV infections can cause genital warts or certain kinds of cancer, particularly cervical cancer. Skin-to-skin contact passes the virus, and while condoms lower your risk of getting HPV, they do not fully protect against HPV.

Detection and Prevention of Cervical Cancer

That’s why detection is essential. Women are recommended to undergo a routine screening every three years with a Pap test and every five years with a Pap-HPV co-test.

  • Pap tests find cell changes in the cervix caused by HPV
  • Co-tests combine Pap testing and HPV DNA testing

Prevention via vaccination is also very strongly recommended. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all girls and boys get the HPV vaccination at age 11 or 12. That’s because the vaccine produces a stronger immune response when taken during the preteen years.

  • Before age 14, and only two doses are needed
  • Between age 14 and 35, three doses are needed

The HPV vaccine helps prevent infection from:

  • High-risk HPV types that can lead to cervical cancer
  • Low-risk HPV types that cause genital warts

As a physician, I’m urging you do take action against cervical cancer – for yourself and for your children. Together, we can make cervical cancer a thing of the past.

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