By: Laura Fry, MD
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month! Many of you know me as the “queen of everything cervical,” so with that title, let’s dive into some information that might help all of us work together to prevent and treat this disease.
Why Does Cervical Cancer Awareness Matter?
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the cells of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina.
On a global scale, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women, with 604,000 new cases leading to 342,000 deaths annually. However, cervical cancer affects people around the world very differently.
In 2020, almost 90% of the deaths occurred in countries with lower incomes due to delays in getting vaccines, screenings, and treatment.
In the United States, there are about 11,500 new cervical cancer cases per year and 4,000 deaths linked to this cancer.
Cervical cancer usually develops slowly over many years. Early signs of cervical cancer include abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix, which is not noticeable from the outside.
However, these changes can be detected through tests at your doctor’s office. If abnormal cells are left untreated, they can progress to become cancerous. So, it’s important to be seen regularly by someone like me!
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
Nearly 100% of cervical cancer cases are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), mostly through sexual intercourse. HPV has many subtypes, and over 11 of them are considered “high risk” types. Globally, about 40% of women were unaware that HPV causes most cervical cancers.
How much do you know about cervical cancer?
Can Cervical Cancer Be Prevented?
YES! Primary prevention (preventing a disease before it occurs) can be done through HPV vaccines. These vaccines are given in the US to girls and boys preferably before the age of 15. Two doses are recommended.
Secondary Prevention (identifying disease at its earlies stages) is done through a pap test and HPV testing. Testing should start at age 21 and be done every three years, with HPV added at age 30 and repeated every 5 years for women who do not test positive.
Paps and HPV testing can detect pre-cancerous conditions, which can often be treated easily and can prevent progression to invasive cervical cancer.
WHO’s Global Efforts to Reduce Cervical Cancer
There is a global campaign from the World Health Organization (WHO) called “90-70-90” by the year 2030. This campaign has three goals:
90% of girls worldwide will be vaccinated against HPV by age 15.
70% of women will have been screened by a high-quality screening method at age 35 and 45.
90% of women with invasive or pre-invasive disease will receive treatment.
Now, What Can You Do to Protect Yourself and Your Family from Cervical Cancer?
If you have not been vaccinated and are below the age of 24 – GET IT DONE! There are some situations in which you can be vaccinated later than age 24. Talk to your provider at your next appointment about your options.
Make sure your children are vaccinated. There are lots of parents who don’t think it’s needed, or they think that giving the vaccine will give their children permission to start having sex younger. This has been proven NOT to be the case!
Get screening done for yourself if you’re assigned female at birth. Talk to any of the providers or nurses here at Amoskeag Health if you have questions.
Spread the news and help us dispel myths and misinformation about vaccines, screenings, and treatment.
Think about it this way: we have a cancer that is very effectively prevented through a vaccine! How cool is that?
Let’s eliminate cancer one cervix at a time!
If you’re interested in the HPV vaccine or are overdue for a screening, we can help! To schedule an appointment with an Amoskeag Health provider,
please call 603-626-9500.