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Cervical cancer awareness and the HPV vaccine

Cervical cancer awareness and the HPV vaccine

Written by  Facing Cancer Together
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(York) -- Last year, more than 12,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States, making it the third-most common cancer among females worldwide. In recent years, a new series of vaccines has helped cut down on the number of cases of human papilloma virus, which can lead to cervical cancer.

As January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, witf's Megan Lello spoke with Dr. Tim McGuinness, a gynecologic oncologist with WellSpan Health, about the disease:

hpv-vaccine-cervical-cancer-preventionWhen it comes to cervical cancer, you can take control of your life! Testing is critical in preventing cervical cancer. Half of the women who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer had not been tested in the previous five years. Dr. McGuinness recommends talking with your gynecologist about setting up a regular exam schedule for pap tests. Scroll down to read the American Cancer Society recommendations for early detection. 

Learn more about PA’s free Healthy Woman Program which covers the cost of Pap tests, mammograms, and cancer treatment for women who are uninsured or underinsured in Pennsylvania.  How do I know if I'm eligible? Call 1-800-215-7494.

hpv-vaccinesHPV (Human papilloma virus) vaccination is available. Vaccinating young girls can help reduce rates of cervical cancer in the future. We can protect our daughters by vaccinating them now.  For more detailed info., please read the HPV vaccine information fact sheet for young women (from the CDC).

In recent news, a panel has recommended that boys and young men be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, or HPV, as well.  Being vaccinated may protect against anal and throat cancers that can result from sexual activity.  Vaccinating boys will also benefit female partners as cervical cancer in women results mostly from vaginal sex with infected males.

Please help us raise awareness about cervical cancer by sharing this web page with those in your life that you care about.  It feels great to take control of our health, and we're in this together.  

More resources:

digital-quilt-shot-12.13Please visit the Digital Quilt to explore stories about lives that have been touched by cancer, like this young woman who faced a cervical cancer diagnosis.  She's is now sharing her story so it doesn't have to be the story of other young women out there.  Search for "cervical cancer" in the search box to explore more stories about cervical cancer.  And, please share your own stories by creating a patch!

You'll be inspired by this cervical cancer survivor's courageous story.  Vicky Darden is a courageous cervical cancer survivor with a mission.  She is selling all of her possessions so that she can bike around the world for a year, delivering smiles to some of the 28 million cancer survivors out there.Vicky is preparing for this journey by training on her bike, and by gaining support through her blog:

Risk factors for cervical cancer:

  • Human papilloma virus infection
  • Smoking
  • Immunosuppression- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS, damages the body's immune system and places women at higher risk for HPV infections.
  • Chlamydia infection
  • Diet- Women with diets low in fruits and vegetables may be at increased risk for cervical cancer. 
  • Also overweight women are more likely to develop adenocarcinoma of the cervix.
  • Oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
  • Multiple full-term pregnancies
  • Young age at the first full-term pregnancy
  • Poverty is also a risk factor for cervical cancer. Many women with low incomes do not have ready access to adequate health care services, including Pap tests.
  • Diethylstilbestrol (DES) DES is a hormonal drug that was given to some women to prevent miscarriage between 1940 and 1971.Family history of cervical cancer

The American Cancer Society recommends the following guidelines for early detection:

All women should begin cervical cancer testing (screening) 3 years after they start having sex (vaginal intercourse). A woman who waits until she is over 18 to have sex should start screening no later than age 21. A conventional (regular Pap) test should be done every year. If a liquid-based Pap test is used instead, testing should be done every 2 years.

Beginning at age 30, many women who have had 3 normal Pap test results in a row may be tested less often, every 2 to 3 years. Either the conventional (regular) Pap test or the liquid-based Pap test can be used. Some women should continue getting tested yearly -- such as women exposed to DES before birth, those with a history of treatment for a pre-cancer, and those with a weakened immune system (such as from HIV infection, organ transplant, chemotherapy, or chronic steroid use).

Another reasonable option for women over 30 (who have normal immune systems and no abnormal Pap results) is to get tested only every 3 years with a Pap test plus the HPV DNA test (see below for more information on this test). The Pap test used can be either the regular or the liquid-based Pap test.

Women 70 years of age or older who have had 3 or more normal Pap tests in a row and no abnormal Pap test results in the last 10 years may choose to stop having cervical cancer testing. Women with a history of cervical cancer, DES exposure before birth, HIV infection, or a weakened immune system should continue to have testing as long as they are in good health.

Women who have had a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) may also choose to stop having cervical cancer testing, unless the hysterectomy was done as a treatment for cervical cancer or pre-cancer. Women who have had a hysterectomy without removal of the cervix (called a supra-cervical hysterectomy) need to continue cervical cancer screening according to the guidelines above.


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