Cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women worldwide. In the United States, 30 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 11 women die from it every day.
Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells begin to develop and multiply on the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb) that connects to the vagina in females. Cervical cancer usually has no symptoms, and is not hereditary like some other cancers. It typically develops very slowly and patients usually do not have any problems until the cancer is advanced and has spread.
Two types of a very common virus cause 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases -the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. It is so common, that at least 50 percent of sexually active men and women will get it at some point during their lives. In 90 percent of cases, when a woman is infected with these two types of HPV, the body’s immune system clears the virus on its own, however, if the virus is not cleared by the body then abnormal cells can develop in the lining of the cervix and pre-cancers and cancers can form.
Routine Pap testing is the best way to find cervical cell changes. Pap tests screen for pre-cancerous changes in the cervix through microscopic examination of cells scraped from the cervix. Most women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer have not had regular Pap tests or have not followed up on abnormal test results. In addition to routine Pap testing, other precautions include regular use of condoms and limiting sexual partners to avoid spreading the HPV virus.
There are also two vaccines (Gardasil and Cervarix) available that can protect women against most cervical cancers. The vaccines protect against four types of HPV that cause cervical cancer and genital warts. The three-shot vaccine series is recommended for 11 and 12 year old girls. It is also recommended for girls and young women ages 13 to 26 who have not yet been vaccinated or completed the vaccine series.
Women need to be proactive with their health. Contact your physician today if you are sexually active and it has been a while since your last Pap test and if you have a daughter, speak to her pediatrician about HPV vaccination. Cervical cancer can be a very preventable disease.
For more information, contact the LaRue County Health Department at 270-358-3844.