Every year, more than 600,000 women throughout the world — including more than 14,000 in the United States — are diagnosed with cancer of the cervix, which is the opening to the uterus. But as dire as that sounds, the rate was 50% higher in the mid-1970s.
Since then, screening has helped doctors detect cervical changes before they become cancerous.
Undetected and untreated cervical cancer is deadly. More than 4,000 women in the US die from this preventable disease each year.
Although it’s rare for women in their 20s or 30s to develop cervical cancer (the average age of diagnosis is 50), preventing this slow-growing disease now protects your health and life in the future.
Sharon Smith, MD, and our team at OBGYN Care in Houston, Texas, encourage you to take control of your reproductive and overall health by preventing cervical cancer. Here are the steps you can take.
In more than 95% of cases, cervical cancer is the result of a sexually transmitted virus called the human papillomavirus (HPV). Another risk factor for developing cervical cancer is infection with the sexually transmitted genital herpes virus (HSV2).
Unfortunately, both HPV and HSV2 can be transmitted through intimate touch alone, even if you never have intercourse. Nevertheless, practicing safe sex may lower your risk of contracting HPV or HSV2 and developing cervical cancer. Here’s how:
Safeguarding your own health and boosting your immune system also reduces your risk. Quit smoking. Take extra precautions if you have an autoimmune disease or other condition that makes you susceptible to infections.
The Pap smear was introduced in 1943 to catch cervical cancer in its early stages, when it can be treated and cured. Thanks to Pap smears, cervical cancer cases per 100,000 women dropped from 24-37 in the early 1900s to only 7.5 by 2008.
Depending on your age and circumstances, you may receive annual or biannual Pap smears. You could also benefit from a test for HPV, which is the main cause for cellular changes in the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer.
You can get an HPV test at the same time as your Pap smear, because the process is similar.
A single dose of the HPV vaccine offers effective protection for those who would benefit from it. Formerly, 2-3 doses were necessary.
The HPV vaccine prevents infection with HPV serotypes 16 and 18. These types of HPV are responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases. The dosing schedule is based on age. Although the main target for HPV vaccines are young girls so they can build immunity, adults benefit too:
Boys should also get an HPV vaccine before age 15 to protect them from infection that can lead to cancers in their throat, penis, or anus. Some women up to age 45 could also benefit.
Preventing cervical cancer is a lot safer, more effective, and easier than trying to treat it. Schedule your Pap test, HPV test, or HPV vaccine for yourself or your child today by contacting our Houston, Texas, office by phone or online form.