This January, Care to Care is proud to participate in National Cervical Health Awareness Month. Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for women. However, the cervical cancer death rate has gone down by more than 50% over the last 40 years, mainly due to the increased use of the Pap test for screening and early detection. This amazing screening tool can find changes in the cervix before cancer ever develops, enabling doctors to treat pre-cancerous states. Unfortunately, not all women are getting screened. In 2012, 10% of US women ages 21-65 reported they had not been screened for cervical cancer in the last 5 years. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), there will be an estimated 12,820 new cases of invasive cervical cancer diagnosed in 2017, with an estimated 4,210 deaths from the disease.
Another important fact that many may not know is that most cervical cancers are preventable! Nearly all cases of cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, with approximately 70% due to HPV types 16 and 18. In addition to causing cervical cancer, HPV is also a common cause of anal cancer, mouth/throat cancer, and cancers of the vulva, vagina, and penis. The HPV vaccine, which became available in 2006, offers the best protection against the virus. However, the vaccine is only effective if administered before exposure to the virus, which is why vaccination must be given before one becomes sexually active, in the preteen years.
To prevent more cervical cancer deaths, screening and vaccination efforts must increase! The ACS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend routine HPV vaccination for females and males starting at age 11 or 12. The ACS recommends all women begin cervical cancer screening at age 21. Women between 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years. Women between ages 30-65 should have both a Pap test and an HPV test every 5 years. Women over age 65 who have had regular screenings with normal results do not require screening, but those who have been diagnosed with cervical pre-cancer should continue to be screened. Women who have had the HPV vaccine should still follow the screening guidelines for their age group.
With a vaccine to prevent the cancer causing HPV infection and with the sensitive Pap screening test to detect the disease in a pre-cancerous state, no woman should die of cervical cancer! It is our job as clinicians to help women understand what screening tests are best for them and help parents know the best time to immunize their children against HPV.
Rachel Title, MD
Chief Medical Officer
Care to Care LLC