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Supportive and non-judgmental advice from SBCHC's health experts.
Everything You Need to Know About Cervical Cancer
By: Kim Hebert
Cervical cancer, HPV, pap smear – chances are you’ve heard these words and not known exactly what they mean. Until several years ago, cervical cancer was one of the leading causes of death for women. While progress has been made with advanced screening tools and vaccinations, cervical cancer remains a serious and often deadly diagnosis. The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in2019 and over 4,200 women will die from the disease.
In its early stages, cancer of the cervix, which is located in the lower part of the uterus, often does not result in any noticeable symptoms. Because of this, screenings (or tests performed by your medical provider to check for cancer) are critical for detecting cancer before it progresses and becomes harder to treat. In the U.S., of women who had cervical cancer between 2009-2015, 65.8% were still surviving five years out from their diagnosis which may be a result of early detection.
The most common cause of cervical cancer is HPV, or Human Papilloma Virus, which is spread through sexual contact. An individual’s likelihood of contracting HPV is increased if the following risk factors are present:
· Unprotected sex
· Other STIs (sexually transmitted infections)
· Weakened immune system
· Birth control pills, if used for a long time
Fortunately, there are steps one can take to minimize the chances of getting cervical cancer or increasing detection in its early stages. First, consider getting the vaccine to prevent contracting HPV. This has been demonstrated to prevent cervical cancer as well as other cancers, such as head and neck, which are often difficult to treat. In areas where the vaccine has been more frequently provided, there has been a steady decline of these types of cancers. The vaccine is intended for children ages 9-14 but can also be given to adults. It is known to be more effective when given to children at younger ages when the immune system is stronger. Getting this vaccine can infer lifelong protection against these cancers for an individual.
Second, every woman with an intact cervix should get a Pap smear at recommended intervals. The Pap test is generally a quick and painless exam where a provider will take some cells from the patient’s cervix to be examined under a microscope for pre-cancerous or cancerous cells. There is also an HPV test that can be done using the same cells that were collected during the Pap smear. Pap tests are recommended for women starting at age 21 and should be repeated every 3 years. Although cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women, screenings have proven to be very effective in detecting it early on and increasing one’s likelihood of survival.
Our providers at the South Boston Community Health Center understand how difficult it can be to take time for medical appointments. If you or someone you care for is at risk for cervical cancer, we want to help! Call your health care provider in Pediatrics, Adult Medicine or Family Medicine to find out if you’re up to date on your vaccines and cancer screenings today. It’s never too late to start.