January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Cervical Cancer is primarily caused by HPV—this stands for Human Papilloma Virus. Currently, in the United States alone, there are 80 million people infected with HPV, and 14 million more become infected each year. This could be your sister, your mother, your brother, your son or daughter….this could even be you.
HPV infection causes genital warts and a number of cancers including cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer due to HPV and affects 13,000 women each year, causing ~ 4000 deaths. If we look at the statistics closer to home, a woman dies every 3 to 4 days in Indiana due to cervical cancer. This type of cancer was previously the most common cause of cancer death for women in the United States. The rate of death due to cervical cancer has decreased by 50% over the past 30 years due to early detection by PAP / HPV tests, and due to the HPV vaccine.
To Learn More about this Disease
How can you learn more about HPV and understand it better from those who have been through it? The Society of Gynecologic Oncology offers an eye-opening documentary titled: Someone You Love: The HPV Epidemic. This documentary takes you into the lives of five different women and their stories of HPV and cervical cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control also offer extensive education about HPV.
Lowering the Risk for You and Those You Love
For children and young adults, HPV can be prevented with a vaccine. The 9-valent vaccine is available in the United States (as of 2017) and provides greater HPV-type coverage than the older vaccines. This vaccine safely protects against cancers that can result from persistent HPV infection.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for both females and males from age 9 – 26. The vaccine is administered in 3 injections over 6 months; however, those 14 and under are able to receive a two dose series and experience the same immunity. In Indiana, only 28% of children and adolescents ages 11 – 17 have received their first dose of vaccine and only 12% complete the series. Talk to your doctor about the vaccine for your children.
Note: Gardasil 9 is now indicated for persons up to age 45. More information is available from the company's website.
Current screening guidelines recommend that PAP / HPV testing commence starting at age 21. Subsequently, testing is recommended for low risk women every 3 years up to age 30 and every 5 years thereafter until age 65. High risk factors include: HIV infected individuals, immunocompromised persons, those with DES exposure before birth, or a history of precancerous / cancerous lesion(s). Talk more with your OB/GYN or family doctor about your regular screenings. If you don’t have a regular doctor, find a physician here.
If You or a Loved One has Cervical Cancer
For those who are diagnosed with cervical cancer, Dr. Samer Schuman and his team at The Women’s Cancer Center are available to help you through this process and guide you throughout your treatment process. Ask your doctor about The Women’s Cancer Center today.