What are your thoughts when you hear the word “cancer?” Fear? Or what about death? What if there was a way for you to prevent cancer? Well, for cervical cancer, there is!
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014, over 12,500 women in the United States were diagnosed with cervical cancer, and ultimately 4,115 of these cases were fatal. I bet you are wondering why the numbers are so high if it is preventable, right? Unfortunately, the truth is that many women are uneducated when it comes to the importance of their cervical health.
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month to help raise awareness about the importance of cervical health and how cervical cancer can be prevented.
Cervical cancer is primarily caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) which is most often spread by direct skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. It is a very common virus with more than 150 variant types, and fifteen of these types have been found to cause cancer. Most people, both male and female, will contract HPV at some point in their lifetime. The CDC estimates that about 79 million people in the U.S. are currently infected with HPV. However, in most cases, the virus will go away on its own, never becoming cancerous.
With the appropriate precautions, cervical cancer is both easily preventable and curable if detected early, and routine screening is recommended for all women over 21.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), there are two tests recommended for women:
- Pap Smear
- Recommended in women age 21-65 years old to test for cervical changes and pre-cancers
- Should be done every three years (if results are normal)
- HPV Test
- Recommended in women 30-years-old and younger, in addition to a pap smear (co-testing)
- Should be done every five years
Currently, there is no FDA-approved HPV test for men.
Vaccination is another preventive measure for cervical cancer! Gardasil 9 is the current HPV vaccine available in the U.S., and it protects against nine strains of HPV that are most commonly associated with causing cervical, vulva, vaginal and anal cancers as well as genital warts.
- The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends routine vaccination for females and males aged 11 to 12 years, but may be initiated beginning at age 9.
- Catch-up vaccination is recommended for females and transgender persons 13 to 26 years and males 13 to 21 years.
- Vaccination for males 22 through 26 years is recommended if immunocompromised, as well as for men who have sex with men, and should be considered for any other male in this age group who has not been vaccinated.
- A 3-dose series is recommended in all immunocompromised individuals regardless of age at vaccine initiation.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] (2016). Cervical Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/pdf/cervical_facts.pdf.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] (2012). Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines for Average-Risk Women. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/pdf/guidelines.pdf
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] (2018). Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] (2017). Recommended Immunization Schedule for Children and Adolescents Aged 18 Years of Age or Younger. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/imz/child-adolescent.html.
- American Cancer Society [ACS]. HPV and HPV Testing. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/infectious-agents/hpv/hpv-and-hpv-testing.html.