Imagine preventing cancer with just a series of shots or a brief visit to the doctor. That’s a reality with cervical cancer. As a member of the bipartisan Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program® of the Prevent Cancer Foundation®, I want to share the following information as we observe Cervical Health Awareness Month.
An estimated 13,800 American women are expected to be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2020. In Maryland alone, 250 women are expected to be diagnosed with the disease. Despite these statistics, cervical cancer is highly preventable. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is responsible for almost all cervical cancer cases, and we have the means to protect against or detect the virus before it leads to cancer.
Pap tests are one of the most powerful cancer prevention tools available. They can identify precancers—abnormal cells on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if left untreated. Co-testing—a combination of both an HPV and a Pap test—every five years is the most effective method of cervical cancer early detection for women ages 30 to 65. Women between 21 and 65 should have a Pap test every three years if they don’t receive a co-test. If you’ve been putting off making an appointment, consider that the brief exam can find cancer before it even starts.
I'm going to take a little liberty in saying that my opinion is still out on the HPV immunization. I personally know of some people whose children have had reactions to the shot, but at the same time I am told by medical professionals that they are now saying you only need one shot and not three and that it is now safe. So I'm just being honest and saying I don't have all the research and my mind isn't made up, but I am still putting the info out there and encouraging people to take control of their health with research and seeking advice from their medical professional for their sake or the health and wellness of their child(ren).
Parents can protect their kids from future risk of cervical and other HPV-related cancers (such as penile or oropharyngeal) with the HPV vaccine. Misinformation about the vaccine has made some wary of it, but extensive research has shown over and over that it is safe and effective. Girls and boys should receive the vaccine at ages 11-12, as it is most effective before they become sexually active. Teens and young adults up to age 26 who have not received the vaccine should receive a catch-up series. The vaccine is now approved for adults through age 45. Talk to your health care professional to see if the vaccine is recommended for you.
Let’s make the most of the resources we have that allow us to live longer, healthier lives. Talk to your health care professional if you have questions about the safety or effectiveness of the HPV vaccine. Learn more at www.preventcancer.org/cervical.
Nicole Beus Harris is the spouse of Representative Andy Harris, M.D. Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society.