Thursday, January 22, 2015

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month


                                                     No woman should die of cervical cancer

Each year, approximately 12,000 women in the United States find out they have cervical cancer and ~4000 die.  Cervical cancer is almost always caused by high-risk/oncogenic types of human papillomavirus (HPV).   Although HPV is a common virus that is easily transmitted during sex, most women who have been infected with HPV clear the virus on their own.  Those that do not clear oncogenic types of the virus are at increased risk for developing cervical, vaginal, vulvar and anal cancers.                      

Other factors that increase a woman’s risk of cervical cancer are smoking, HIV infection, long-term use of oral contraceptives and having multiple children.

However, cervical cancer is highly preventable if cancer precursors are found early and treated, and cervical cancer has the best chance of being cured when found and treated at the stage before it has spread (carcinoma in situ).

Cervical cancer screening is one of the greatest cancer prevention achievements.  So why do some women still develop or die from this disease?
Pap Test
Most women know they should get Pap tests, but they may not know why or how Pap tests work.  The Pap test (or Pap smear) samples the epithelial lining of the cervix.  These samples are examined by a trained cytologist who looks for cellular abnormalities associated with HPV (minor abnormalities called dysplasias and more significant abnormalities known as precancers).  Pap tests are usually recommended for women between 21 and 65 years of age.                                                                                          
However, according to the CDC, in 2012, the percentage of women who had not been screened for cervical cancer in the past 5 years was estimated to be 11.4%; the percentage was higher for women without health insurance (23.1%) and for those without a regular health care provider (25.5%).  These women are at the highest risk for developing and dying from cervical cancer.

Advances in Screening

Beginning in 2003, HPV DNA tests were licensed for use:
  • in conjunction with Paps in women 30 years of age and older
  • as a follow-up test if abnormal Pap results were observed in women aged 21 years                and older 
     Both Pap and DNA test are also used to determine how often a woman needs to be screened; this can vary from every 6 months to every 5 years depending on individual circumstances.
Stay tuned!  
In April 2014, one of these DNA tests, the cobas HPV Test, was approved for stand-alone use (without Pap) as first-line cervical cancer screening in women aged 25 years or older.  This means that professional guidelines for the use of Pap tests and HPV tests may be in the process of changing soon. 
Primary Prevention Through Vaccination
Vaccines are also available to help protect against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical cancer.  These vaccines are recommended routinely for both boys and girls at age 11    or 12.

For more information about cervical cancer and its prevention
Judith Wolf, MD
Associate Director, WHEP


  1. You are right. Agreed.. thanx for the share..
    Womens Health

  2. That is really too bad that more women aren't getting vaccinated against HPV. You're right, no woman should have to die because of this. There needs to be more awareness raised about women's health.

  3. The female body is amazing and is capable of doing so many things. With this being the case though, it's so vital that everything is done to make sure that their bodies stay healthy and strong so that their bodies can do what they need to do. It's awesome that there are doctors and medical groups that can do this very thing.

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