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Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Saves Lives

Women's Wellness

Early detection and prevention have turned what was once one of the nation’s leading cancer killers into one of the most treatable. Cervical cancer is a preventable cancer that, when found early, is also highly curable. 

What causes cervical cancer?

The main cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is an extremely common sexually-transmitted virus. I see it nearly every day in my Methodist Women’s Center clinic.  

"In fact, there are nearly 30 to 40 different types of HPV causing 14 million new genital HPV infections every year. HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. Not all women who contract the virus get cervical cancer, however. Some subtypes of the virus are the high-risk types which cause cervical cancer; low-risk types do not cause cancer but may cause genital warts." 

Dr. Judith Scott
Methodist Physicians Clinic OB/GYN

Most HPV infections occur without any symptoms, and go away on their own within a year or two without causing cancer. Some HPV infections, however, can persist for many years. It’s these high-risk HPV types – mostly HPV types 16 and 18 –which can lead to cell changes on the cervix that, if untreated, may progress to cancer. It’s behind nearly 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases.

So what can you do to lower your cervical cancer risk?

Have regular screenings 

Women should start getting regular Pap tests and pelvic exams starting at age 21. The Pap test is one of the most reliable and effective cancer screening tests. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends testing for women under 30 once every three years, then every five years until age 65. Testing for HPV is also performed sometimes to further identify who may be at risk to develop cervical cancer and who may not be.

According ACOG, the use of the Pap test has reduced cervical cancer deaths over the last 30 years by more than 50 percent. While nearly 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, fewer than 4,000 died from the disease. 

Because cervical cancer most commonly takes 10 years to 20 years or more to develop, we really encourage regular screening tests and follow-up throughout a woman’s life. A gynecological exam includes much more than a Pap test, which is why regular wellness visits are so important.

Get the HPV vaccine 

HPV vaccines are a strong weapon in preventing cervical cancer. These safe, effective vaccines protect both women and men against about 75 percent of high-risk the HPV types and the health problems the virus can cause.

We recommend the HPV vaccine to all our patients. Since we know HPV causes the Pap problems, let’s do primary prevention.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends girls receive the HPV vaccine series anywhere from ages 9 to 26. Most commonly, it’s given in the middle school age group. Boys ages 11 through 21 can also get vaccinated.

Pediatricians are doing a great job of getting their patients vaccinated when they are in the middle school age group. I would say 90 percent of the patients in our Methodist Women’s Center Adolescent Gynecology Clinic have already completed their vaccine series.

Use a condom

If you are sexually active, wearing a latex condom may lower the risk of HPV and HPV-related diseases, such as genital warts and cervical cancer. However, HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom – so they may not fully protect against HPV.

For more information about HPV and cervical cancer, talk today with your Methodist Physicians Clinic health care provider.

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Click here to schedule your screening today.

Maureen Boyle

About the Author:

Dr. Maureen Boyle believes strongly in building a trusting relationship with her patients. She treats each woman as though they were her mother, sister or daughter, using that rule as a guide for finding the best treatment possible.

You can see Dr. Boyle at Methodist Physicians Clinic in Council Bluffs

See More Articles by Maureen Boyle