Television personality, Erin Andrews, was recently diagnosed and treated for cervical cancer and, thankfully, is now cancer free. The key is catch cervical cancer EARLY.
According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition more than 12,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and more than 4,000 of those diagnosed will die as a result. Worldwide, that number is a staggering 500,000…more than 500,000 women per year are diagnosed with cervical cancer. The good news, if, caught early, cervical cancer is also the most preventable. The death rate for women with cervical cancer has decreased by approximately 2% per year. Symptoms include abdominal bleeding between menstrual periods, after sex or after menopause. Vaginal discharge that is unusual in amount, color, and consistency or smell, are other cancer indicators, as well as frequent urinating, pelvic pain and painful urination.
The Pap Test
Pap tests can detect cervical abnormalities and allow for early treatment. It is recommended that women continue to have yearly pap smears at least until the age of 70. Half of the women diagnosed are between the ages of 35 and 55. It is a rarity for women under the age of 20 to be affected and approximately 20% of those diagnosed are in women older than 65. Consult your family physician after the age of 70 to determine what is best for you, especially, if there is a history of cancer in your family.
According to the American Cancer Society, prevention starts with finding and treating pre-cancerous cells before they become true cancer. The old reliable Pap smear can be augmented with the HPV (human papilloma virus) test. The smear collects cells from the cervix and is examined under a microscope. The test can be done in conjunction with the pelvic exam and the same cells can be used to conduct the HPV test.
Since HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer, it is imperative to take steps to prevent exposure to the virus. It is passed from one person to another during skin-to-skin contact with an infected area of the body. While it can be spread through sex, all that is needed is for skin-to-skin contact take place. Spreading can also occur from genital to genital contact, without sex, or through hand to genital contact.
Any woman that has had sex, has a risk for genital HPV. Having many sex partners, having a sex partner that has had many partners, being younger than 25 years of age, and having sex before before the age of 16, raises your risk factors as well. Also, men that haven’t been circumcised are likely to get and stay infected with the HPV disease and pass it on to their subsequent partners.
Waiting to have sex until you are older can help you avoid contracting the virus by limiting your number of sex partners. While the infection is most often spread between men and women, it is also seen in women that have only had other women as sex partners. An infected person can carry the disease, never show any symptoms, and pass it on to their partner.
Fortunately, vaccines are now available that can protect against some, but not all HPV infections. These vaccines can also protect against infection with the HPV sub type most commonly linked to cancer. These vaccines can also offer protection against anal and genital warts, but will not treat the virus if it is already in your system. Side effects from the vaccine are usually mild, the most common being short-term redness, swelling and soreness of the injection site.
The American Cancer Society also recommends that boys and girls be vaccinated at age 11 or 12 and may be started on the series of injections as early as 9. The older a person is when getting the vaccine the less effective it is. Condoms can provide some protection, but they don’t completely prevent infection. Men, who use condoms correctly, are less likely to be infected. While condoms are 70% effective when used properly all the time, they don’t protect the skin around the genital and anal areas. Female condoms that fit inside the vaginal area can also help protect against sexually transmitted diseases, but are not as effective as male condoms.
If you would like to learn more about the HPV vaccine, simply call DeRosa Medical to make an appointment with one of our providers. The more you know, the more you can be protected.