January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. This month focuses on the prevention of cervical cancer to help eliminate and reduce the prevalence of the disease. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable kinds of cancers, however 12,000 women in the US are diagnosed each year, with 4,000 women dying from the disease. It is the second most prevalent type of cancer for women in the US, but with proper, early detection it is normally very treatable and preventable.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is the formation of cancer cells in the cervix. Squamous cells found in the t-zone of the cervix are commonly where precancerous or cancer cells are found.
What causes cervical cancer?
In 99% of cervical cancers HPV is present and a contributor to the development of the disease. HPV or the human papilloma virus is an infection with over 100 variant types, most of which are harmless and cured naturally by the body. However, there are some higher risk types of HPV that can lead to cancer. Two of these, which contribute to 70% of cervical cancer cases, are HPV-16 and HPV-18.
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is the most common STI in the US. 90% of infections, however, cure themselves naturally. It is estimated that 80% of women have been infected with some type of HPV in their lifetime. But, when the virus does not resolve itself, that is when issues occur and abnormal cells develop. The positive news is that cervical cancer develops slowly and with proper screening it is preventable and treatable.
Prevention of cervical cancer
The best way to prevent cervical cancer is by getting screenings or pap spears when recommended by your healthcare professional. A pap smear tests the cells of the cervix to look for abnormalities. With regular pap tests it is generally possible to detect early cancer cells and treat them before cancer takes hold.
Also for young women, especially those who are not yet sexually active, it is important to ask a doctor about vaccination. There are HPV vaccinations that can help provide immunity to strands of HPV that often lead to cancer--HPV-16 and HPV-18. These vaccinations are also available for boys to help protect against HPV for themselves and future partners.
Regular screenings and being informed is the best way to eliminate cervical cancer in the US. This cancer is treatable and preventable! So tell everyone you know, and keep you and your family healthy.