Despite the strides made in reducing the impact of cervical cancer among women, there were still nearly 14,500 women in the United States diagnosed with cervical cancer and more than 4,200 who died from the disease last year, according to the National Cancer Institute. January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, the perfect time to review the importance of cervical cancer screenings, early detection, and prevention of the disease.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is a slow growing cancer that develops in the tissue of the cervix, which is the organ connecting the uterus and vagina.
What causes cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is most commonly caused by HPV (human papillomavirus), a sexually transmitted virus. When a woman is infected with HPV and it is not treated or it does not go away on its own, abnormal cells may develop in the cervix’s lining, ultimately leading to formation of cancerous cells.
Good news about prevention and treatment
Unlike other female cancers, like ovarian cancer, which often doesn’t present symptoms until stage 3 or 4, cervical cancer can be caught very early or even in its precancer stage. The two screening tests that can detect cervical cancer early are a Pap test and an HPV test. When undergoing a Pap test, a gynecologist will collect cells from the cervix to be examined in a lab to look for abnormal cells of the cervix. An HPV test can be completed at the same times as the pap test. With either test, if an abnormal result is found then additional diagnostic test can be completed to confirm the abnormal pap and HPV results. It’s important to make time to schedule routine visits with your gynecologist. Consult your doctor on when to start each of these screenings. Your medical history and lifestyle will help determine when to start.
Additionally, there are vaccines that can help prevent HPV infection for both children and adults. The vaccines, which require a series of injections, will not treat an already existing HPV infection, so it’s still necessary to maintain routine screenings. They can, however, protect against some types of HPV viruses and are a valuable tool in preventing cervical cancer.
In addition to these medical precautions, try to limit your exposure to HPV. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus but sex does not have to occur to become infected. HPV is passed on during skin-to-skin contact with an infected area of the body. Some ways to minimize the risk of getting HPV are limiting the number of sexual partners, using a condom, and not smoking.
To schedule a Pap test or HPV screening, please contact our office at 307-634-5216.