Cervical cancer and the connection to HPV
Martins Ferry Times Leader
Published January 20, 2016
Each January brings a new year with new goals, and many of us have resolved to make healthier choices. Along the same lines, one resolution should be to have a discussion with your doctor about steps you can take to reduce the risk for cancer.
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and a reminder to all women to talk with your health care professional about how to prevent this disease or detect it early, when it is most treatable. In 2016, an estimated 12,990 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 4,120 will die from the disease this year. Here in Ohio alone, there will be approximately 470 new cases of cervical cancer this year. We can do better by knowing more and taking action.
It is important to know that human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually-transmitted virus and some types can lead to cervical cancer. More than 14 million people get a new HPV infection every year. Not all types of the virus cause cancer, and HPV infections usually clear up without any intervention. However, two types (HPV-16 and HPV-18) have been identified as causing about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases worldwide.
There is an HPV vaccine now available for boys and girls (recommended for ages 11-12). This is good news, but we still face a critical need to create more awareness about the vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 4 out of 10 adolescent girls and 6 out of 10 adolescent boys have not started the recommended HPV vaccine series, leaving them vulnerable to cancers caused by HPV infections.
HPV is not the only risk factor for developing cervical cancer, and the HPV vaccine does not protect from every type of virus that could lead to cervical cancer. Women who have been vaccinated should still be screened for cervical cancer; screening can be done with the Pap test or the HPV test.
Experts recommend that women begin cervical cancer screening at age 21 with a Pap test every three years, and women ages 30-65 get screened with a Pap test combined with an HPV test every five years (a Pap test alone every three years is an alternative option). Most women over age 65 do not need to be screened. Since patients rarely see symptoms of cervical cancer until the late stages of the disease, it is absolutely critical that you get screened for this disease.
While all women are at risk for cervical cancer, you may be at increased risk if you:
• Have HPV
• Do not have regular Pap tests
• Began having sex at an early age
• Have had multiple sex partners
• Smoke or have a history of smoking
• Have used birth control pills for a long time
• Were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth
• Have a weakened immune system
• Are overweight or obese
• Have a close relative who has had cervical cancer, such as a sister or mother
If you are at increased risk, talk with your doctor about how often you should be screened.
This year, resolve to learn more about cervical cancer and HPV. Talk to your doctor. Share this information with the important women in your life. And learn more about cancer prevention and early detection by visiting the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s website at www.preventcancer.org.
LeeAnn Johnson is the wife of Congressman Bill Johnson (Ohio’s Sixth District) and is a member of Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation.