(NNPA)—Cervical cancer is in many ways unlike other cancers. It strikes women in midlife when they are often taking care of families. Cervical cancer is also one of the few types of cancers that is caused by a virus.
Fortunately, cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and also, when caught and treated early, one of the most curable cancers. Now is the perfect time to educate yourself about this disease and what you can do to protect yourself.
Every year in the United States, more than 11,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,000 women die from the disease. More African-American women die from cervical cancer than any other racial group in the United States. It is time to stand up to this disease and change these statistics. It is especially important for African-American women to learn how to prevent this disease.
One of the most important steps in preventing cervical cancer is to have regular Pap tests. The Papanicolaou test (sometimes called Pap smear or cervical smear) is used to find cell changes in the cervix that can be treated before they turn into cervical cancer. A Pap test also can find cancer early. The earlier that cervical cancer is found, the easier it is to treat. A Pap test is usually painless and is easily done in a doctor’s office or clinic during a pelvic exam.
A test for human papillomavirus, the virus that causes cervical cancer, is also available. The HPV test can be useful for screening for cervical cancer in women age 30 and older when done together with a Pap test. It can also be used for women of all ages who have certain abnormal Pap test results. There are over 100 types of HPV, more than 30 of which can spread through genital contact. Some sexually transmitted HPV types cause genital warts, and others cause cervical cancer. The HPV test examines cervical cells for the types of HPV that cause cancer.
Genital HPV infections are very common and are sexually transmitted. Many people who have an HPV infection may not be aware of it. Most HPV infections occur without any symptoms or problems and go away on their own without leading to cancer. Some infections can persist for many years and may or may not cause cell changes. Infections that cause cell changes can increase the risk for developing cervical cancer.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved two vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, to prevent infection with the types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against infection with the HPV types that cause most genital warts. Both vaccines are most effective if they are given before an individual is sexually active. Gardasil is approved for use in females and males ages nine through 26, and Cervarix is approved for use in females ages 10 through 25. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends routine HPV vaccination of females aged 11 or 12 years with three doses of HPV vaccine (vaccination can begin at age nine). HPV vaccination is also recommended for females aged 13 through 26 years who have not been previously vaccinated or who have not completed the full vaccination series. It is important to talk to your doctor or health care provider to determine if the vaccine is right for you or a loved one. You can learn more about the HPV vaccine at http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/risk/HPV-vaccine.
Due to routine screening, cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates in the United States have declined greatly over the last few decades. You too can protect yourself from this devastating disease. The National Cancer Institute is available to help by offering the latest news and information about cervical and other cancers. To learn more, call 1-800-4-CANCER to speak with a Cancer Information Specialist. If you prefer to search the Internet, visit the primary Spanish language website of the NCI, http://www.cancer.gov/espanol. Our site links you to a wide variety of cancer education and awareness materials, from publications to updates about research. Now is the time to take action and live a healthier life!
NCI leads the National Cancer Program and the NIH effort to dramatically reduce the burden of cancer and improve the lives of cancer patients and their families, through research into prevention and cancer biology, the development of new interventions, and the training and mentoring of new researchers.
(For more information visit http://www.cancer.gov or call NCI’s Cancer Information Service at 1-800-422-6237.)