Health News
Health News
January 10, 2019
Cervical Health Awareness

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, a time to focus on cervical cancer and its primary cause, the human papillomavirus (HPV).  Cervical health awareness is important for every woman and all parents need to know about HPV and how it can be prevented. 

Each year, about 12,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer, usually at age 30 or older.  “The good news is that cervical cancer is both highly treatable and preventable,” says Dr. Lindsay Breedlove Tate, an obstetrician and gynecologist.  “We want all women to understand how important early detection is and for parents to recognize that cervical cancer can largely be prevented.” 

As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, ‘no woman should die of cervical cancer.’

Causes and Risk Factors

HPV is almost always the cause of cervical cancer; however, relatively few women who contract HPV will ever develop cervical cancer.  HPV is a common virus transmitted through sexual contact.  The CDC reports that at least half of the sexually active population has HPV, and many who have it will never realize it. 

In most cases, HPV will prove to be harmless, but in some instances, it can alter cells in the cervix and cause cancer.  This is one of the reasons it’s so important for women to have regular exams, so that any abnormalities are detected early.    

Smoking is also a risk factor for cervical cancer. 

Detecting Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is detected through the Pap test.  The Pap test, sometimes called a Pap smear, identifies cellular changes that could indicate cancer or a risk of developing cancer in the cervix.  By spotting changes early enough, cancer can be successfully treated or even prevented altogether. 

The current screening guidelines, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), are as follows:    

  • Women ages 21-29 should have a Pap test every three years

  • Women ages 30-65 should have a Pap test and HPV test every five years

These are general guidelines and your physician may provide screening guidance specific to you based on your medical history and other factors. 

The Pap test involves taking a sample of cells from the cervix, following a visual examination of the pelvic area by the physician.  The entire exam only takes a few minutes.  If an HPV test is necessary, it can be conducted at the same time, utilizing the same sample of cells collected for the Pap test. 

“All women should see their health care provider for an annual well-woman exam, which can help in early detection of cervical cancer and other women’s health issues,” says Dr. Taylor Bradley, an obstetrician and gynecologist.  “Your provider will tell you if a Pap test or HPV test should be part of that exam.”

Preventing Cervical Cancer: the HPV Vaccine

HPV is very common – nearly one in four people in the United States are infected with it.  For most, the virus will never cause any problems at all and in 90 percent of cases, it will go away on its own within a couple of years. 

Parents can help ensure that their daughters will reduce their risk for cervical cancer in the future by ensuring that they receive the HPV vaccine.  And it’s not just girls who need to receive this vaccine – boys need to get it, also. 

When boys are vaccinated for HPV, they are less likely to get the virus and therefore, reduce the risk of spreading it to others.  And while HPV is most commonly associated wither cervical cancer, the virus can also lead to other cancers.  Some of these cancers can impact men as well as women, such as cancers of the head and neck.   

Girls and boys should receive the HPV vaccine at ages 11-12.  The vaccine is administered through two shots, six to twelve months apart.  The HPV vaccine may be given to girls and young women through age 26 and to boys and young men through age 21.  For people older than 14, the vaccine will consist of three shots over a six-month period. 

“The HPV vaccine is essential for adolescents to receive, just like the vaccines to prevent mumps, measles and whooping cough they received when they were babies,” explains obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Catherine Bevan.  “Vaccines are for protecting children’s health not only in the present day, but long into their adult lives, as well.  Parents should visit with their child’s pediatrician if they have questions about the HPV or any other vaccine.”

Prevention, Early Detection are the Keys

All women should see their health care provider at least once a year for a well-woman exam, which can help in the early detection of cervical cancer and other conditions.  In many cases, a Pap test can detect cellular changes that are precursors to cancer and early detection of these changes can prevent the cancer from ever developing.  Parents can help safeguard their daughters from the risk of getting cervical cancer later in life by ensuring they receive the HPV vaccine.  

If it has been more than a year since your last well-woman exam, call your provider and make an appointment today.  If you or a family member are looking to establish a relationship with an obstetrician/gynecologist or primary care provider, Privia Medical Group North Texas has dozens of providers to choose from. 

This article contains information sourced from:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Mayo Clinic