Imagine a world where no one dies of cancer.
While that might seem impossible in our lifetimes, we are making progress toward this goal. And when it comes to cervical cancer—a disease that is highly preventable with vaccination and screening—this future is within reach. As a member of the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program®, I am sharing this vital information in recognition of Cervical Health Awareness Month.
An estimated 14,100 American women are expected to be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2022. In Maryland alone, 240 women are expected to be diagnosed. Cervical cancer was once the leading cause of cancer deaths for women in the United States, but thanks to effective screening with Pap tests and human papillomavirus (HPV) tests, as well as prevention with the HPV vaccine, fewer women are developing and dying from this disease—but more than 4,000 lives lost each year to a preventable disease is still far too many.
Although cervical cancer is most common in women over 30, prevention begins at an early age with the HPV vaccine. The vaccine protects against HPV, the virus that causes about 90% of all cervical cancer cases and is linked to at least five other types of cancer. It is recommended for girls and boys ages 9-12; teens and young adults up to age 26 who have not received the vaccine can receive a catch-up series.
Women of average risk ages 21 to 65 should have routine cervical cancer and/or HPV screening. Unfortunately, according to a 2021 Prevent Cancer Foundation survey, half of women in the U.S. between the ages of 21 and 60 don’t know how often they should be screened for cervical cancer. The numbers are even higher for women of color 53% of Black women, 53% of Latina women and 57% of Asian women say they don’t know how often they should be screened.
Screening options are an HPV test alone every five years, co-testing with a Pap test and an HPV test every five years, or a Pap test alone every three years. An HPV test can let you and your doctor know if you have the virus so you can be monitored, and Pap tests can detect pre-cancerous cells that can then be removed before they become cancer or can detect cervical cancer in early stages, when successful treatment is more likely. Even if you have received the HPV vaccine, you should still be screened according to guidelines.
If you have delayed your cervical cancer screening appointment or your children’s HPV vaccinations, it is time to get those appointments back on the books. Routine cancer screenings and vaccinations are vital to cancer prevention and early detection. Start this new year by taking charge of your health and taking a step toward cancer prevention. To learn more about cervical cancer prevention and early detection, visit www.preventcancer.org/cervical.
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.