Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment
Cervical cancer has historically been elusive to diagnose and treat. But with today’s advances in screening and prevention, early detection and the survival rate are better than ever. With January designated as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, now is a good time to survey the current realities of this disease.
Cervical cancer was once one of the leading causes of cancer death for women. As the practice of obstetrics progressed and the Pap test became standard and widespread, earlier detections led to earlier interventions and treatment.
Almost 14,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year, and about 4,000 of those will die from the disease. As with much of healthcare, access affects the severity and survivability of the disease. So even today there is a clear difference in mortality rate based on income level.
An additional tool in detection has been deployed in recent years with the HPV test. Most cervical cancers are caused by HPV (human papillomavirus). The test detects the higher risk forms of HPV that lead to precancerous conditions. The HPV test can be done during the same OB visit as the Pap smear or can be done on by itself.
The HPV vaccine offers the best medical intervention to prevent cervical cancer. Today the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that children start getting the vaccine as early as 11 years of age. However, everyone is recommended to get the HPV vaccine up to 26 years old and adults 27 to 45 years old may want to get the vaccine after discussing their risks with their doctor or other healthcare provider.
Like other vaccines, the HPV shot activates antibodies against HPV, providing a more robust defense. The vaccine is quite effective and in the first decade after widespread use started in 2006, HPV infections in girls and women from 14 to 19 years old decreased by 86 percent. Further prevention comes by practicing safe sex and not smoking.
All women should get regular OB treatment and screenings to help prevent cervical cancer. As with all diseases, maintaining a healthy lifestyle also will help avoid this potentially deadly disease.