Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

Cervical cancer was once a leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States and is now largely preventable with proper screening and vaccination against HPV. During Cervical Cancer Awareness Month this January, we are encouraging you to learn about this disease and the steps you can take to protect your cervical health year-round.

Understanding Cervical Cancer

There are an estimated 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer each year in the United States, and each year approximately 4,000 women in the U.S. will die from this disease. As many as 93% of cervical cancers could be prevented by screening and HPV vaccination. 

Cervical cancer often has no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, the first signs may be abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge. These symptoms are often caused by other health problems but it is important to see your health care provider if you notice any of these symptoms. 

A primary cause of cervical cancer is human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, making the HPV vaccine one of the most common ways to prevent it. If you haven’t received one yet, talk to your healthcare provider about a cervical cancer screening and HPV vaccination.

HPV and Its Connection to Cervical Cancer

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It is the main cause of cervical cancer and can cause other types of cancer as well. There are many types of HPV, including “high-risk types” which can cause cancer of the anus, cervix, vulva, vagina, and penis. They can also cause cancer of the head and neck. Being infected with HPV does not necessarily mean that a person will get genital warts or develop cancer, but it is still important to take steps toward preventing infection.

One way to protect against HPV infection is by getting the HPV vaccine. The vaccine is safe and effective and protects against the HPV types that are the most common cause of genital warts and cancer. The HPV vaccine has been around since 2006. Since then, millions of people around the world have gotten the HPV vaccine without serious side effects and the rates of cervical cancer incidence have dropped significantly among vaccinated women. Here are a few more things to know about the HPV vaccine:

  • Vaccination works best when it is done before a person is sexually active and exposed to HPV, but vaccination can still reduce the risk of getting HPV for people who have already been sexually active.
  • The ideal age for vaccination is 11 or 12, but anyone ages 9 to 26 can receive the HPV vaccine.
  • If you’re over 26, talk to your healthcare provider about whether you need the vaccine. The vaccine is approved for people through age 45. 
  • The vaccine does not contain live viruses, so it cannot cause an HPV infection. 
  • If you’ve been vaccinated against HPV you should still have regular cervical cancer screenings. Talk with your provider about when and how often you should be screened.

The HPV vaccine does not treat existing HPV infections but can still be beneficial after infection. HPV infection can lead to changes in the cells on the cervix, called cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) or cervical dysplasia. When CIN is moderate or severe (Known as CIN 2 or CIN 3), treatment involves removing or destroying the abnormal cells. The HPV vaccine may help prevent abnormal cells from coming back after treatment but cannot reverse changes already caused by HPV.. 

Prevention and Early Detection

Pap tests and HPV tests paired with vaccination are key to prevention and early detection. These tests help detect problems such as cell changes so they can be treated before they turn into cancer. Pap tests are the traditional method of early detection and it is recommended that women should start screening with one at age 21. An HPV test, which can detect the high-risk types of HPV commonly found in cervical cancer, is also recommended for women aged 30 and over. Talk to your provider about your screening options. 

Based on the results of your cervical cancer screening, your healthcare provider may suggest additional, more detailed tests, such as a colposcopy, endocervical curettage, or biopsy. The providers at Essex County OB/GYN specialize in the treatment and management of Abnormal Pap Smears – we are here to help you! 

Cervical Cancer Treatment and Support

There are several ways to treat cervical cancer and the best option will depend on the kind of cancer and how far it has spread. Early diagnosis tends to lead to better treatment outcomes. Options include:

  • Surgery, where a doctor removes cancer tissue
  • Chemotherapy, where special medications shrink or kill the cancer
  • Radiation, which uses high-energy rays to kill cancer. 

There are many online resources available to those who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer. Additionally, talk to your provider about any local support groups available to you and your loved ones. 

It is important to spread awareness and educate ourselves about cervical cancer prevention initiatives throughout Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and the entire year. By encouraging regular screening and vaccination, cervical cancer diagnosis statistics will continue to improve. Are you prioritizing your cervical health? Contact Essex County OB/GYN today to schedule your screening and/or vaccination.

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