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.
Cervical cancer is preventable, but it still claims the lives of far too many Americans every year.
An estimated 13,170 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2019 and about 4,250 are expected to die of the disease. In state alone, 230 will be diagnosed this year. Thanks to the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and effective screening through the Pap test and HPV test, cervical cancer in the U.S. could one day be virtually eliminated. Here’s what you need to know about this disease.
What are the risk factors?
Nearly all cervical cancer cases are caused by some type of HPV, which is a common sexually transmitted infection. You are also at increased risk if you smoke, have HIV or other health conditions that weaken your immune system, or have used birth control for more than five years. Cervical cancer is most common in women ages 35 to 44, although it does affect
younger and older women as well. Hispanic women are most likely to be diagnosed.
What are the symptoms?
Women usually don’t experience any symptoms until the disease has progressed to more
advanced stages, when it’s more difficult to treat. At this point, you might experience abnormal vaginal bleeding or spotting at times other than your normal period, longer and heavier periods than normal, abnormal or increased vaginal discharge, or pain during sex. Although it may be another condition, you should visit a health care professional if you have any of these symptoms.
How can cervical cancer be prevented?
The HPV vaccine protects against cervical and other HPV-related cancers, such as vaginal,
anal, throat and penile. It is recommended in two doses for boys and girls ages 11-12 because that is when immune response to the vaccine is strongest. Young women through age 26 and young men through age 21 should also receive the vaccine if they haven’t already. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the vaccine for adults up to age 45—talk to your health care professional to see if it is recommended for you. The vaccine protects against HPV strains that account for 90 percent of cervical cancer cases.
Even if you are a woman who has received the vaccine, you should still get a Pap test every
three years from ages 21 to 29. From ages 30-65, the preferred way to screen is with both a
Pap and HPV test (called co-testing) every five years. Studies have found co-testing more
effective at detecting pre-cancerous cells than a Pap test alone.
Let’s stop cervical cancer before it starts. Share this knowledge with the women in your life. Get screened. If you have children, make sure they receive the HPV vaccine to help keep them and others free of the disease. To learn more about cervical cancer, visit www.preventcancer.org/cervicalcancer.
Nicole Beus Harris is the spouse of Representative Andy Harris, M.D. Statistics provided by the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).