What do I need to know?
By the Numbers
Cervical cancer affects nearly 12,000 women each year and causes 4,200 deaths. The good news is that with vaccination and early detection screening, cervical cancer is a preventable disease.
There are several things that increase the risk of developing cervical cancer: smoking, multiple sexual partners throughout one’s lifetime, a previous history of sexually transmitted diseases (STD), illnesses that weaken one’s immune system, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and infection with human papilloma virus (HPV).
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
In most cases, cervical cancer is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus is very common in the United States, currently affecting approximately 79 million Americans, and is spread through sexual contact. Most of the time, people do not know they carry the virus. HPV can cause external genital warts, abnormal pap smear tests and cancer. Not all HPV causes cancer and most HPV infections go away; however, some HPV infections linger and can become cancer.
HPV is less likely to resolve in women over age 30; therefore, the rates of cervical cancer rise in women age 30 and above. Cervical cancer can take 10-20 years to develop but can be detected early through abnormal changes on pap smear testing before it becomes cancer.
How can you protect yourself and your loved ones from HPV and, ultimately, cervical cancer?
Vaccination against HPV is available for young women up to age 26 and men up to age 21; it can be given as early as age 9. This vaccine helps protect against a few common strains of HPV that cause genital warts and cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers. Additionally, screening for cervical cancer with a pap smear and/or HPV testing can help detect abnormal cells and HPV before they develop into cancer. Women should begin cervical cancer screening at age 21. Additional ways to protect yourself against HPV are to quit smoking, use condoms and limit the number of sexual partners in your lifetime.
Cervical cancer is highly preventable with vaccination, screening & early detection. Most insurances cover vaccination and testing to prevent cervical cancer – often at little or no cost to the patient. If you do not have insurance, many programs are available to assist with cervical cancer screening and vaccination.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Take a small but important step to protect your health, and call your provider or one of our Valley Health offices today to schedule a well-woman exam to make sure your vaccination and cervical cancer screening is up to date!
Reviewed by Andrea Marcum Vallejos, M.D., FACOG, a board certified OB/GYN at Valley Health Systems in Huntington.