Every year, more than 13,000 women in the USA are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer, causing around 4,000 deaths a year - and yet this is a disease that is preventable, both by vaccine and by regular screening.
Since January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, we’re taking the opportunity to talk about the disease, including current guidelines for protecting yourself and your family.
What causes cervical cancer?
About 79 million Americans currently have HPV. In 99% of cases, cell changes leading to cervical cancer are caused by human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV is a very common sexually transmitted disease, and most types of HPV are low-risk and do not cause cervical cancer. The smaller number of high-risk HPV types, however, can lead to cell abnormalities and cervical cancer if left undetected.
According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC), The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all boys and girls receive the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12, as it produces a stronger immune response in the pre-teen years. The vaccine is recommended up to the age of 26, though it has also been approved up to the age of 45 - so if you are not vaccinated then you may want to discuss your options with your healthcare provider.
The traditional method of screening is the Pap smear, which detects any abnormalities in the cells of the cervix. HPV tests can find the high-risk types of HPV that may lead to cervical cancer.
The NCCC states that the current guidelines for screening are:
- Women should start screening with the Pap test at age 21
- Starting at age 30, women have three options available for screening: a Pap test alone every three years, co-testing with a Pap and HPV test every five years or an HPV test alone, every five years.
Where can I find further information?
As with any health concerns, speak to your healthcare provider first and foremost to find out more information, including your options in terms of vaccinations, screenings, tests and treatments.
You can also look at the NCCC website for more general information about the disease and the guidelines, as well as where to find support and further resources.
We believe that prevention is always better than cure. Cervical cancer is a preventable disease and it’s important that information is shared so that the number of women being diagnosed can come down each year. Please share these resources with friends and family so that we can help other women to be informed.