The C-word no one wants to hear is cancer. Thankfully, cervical cancer is highly preventable thanks to the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a significant drop in the number of young people receiving the HPV vaccine. January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and it’s a good opportunity to learn about screenings and vaccinations.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is cancer that starts in the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus. We know that the HPV causes changes in cells that lead to this type of cancer. Many women do not experience symptoms of early-stage cervical cancer, which is why screening is so important. Symptoms of advanced cervical cancer include the following: pain in the abdomen, pelvis, or back; pelvic pressure; difficult urination; difficult bowel movements; abnormal vaginal bleeding, including in between periods.
Common treatments for cervical cancer include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
What are your options?
The HPV vaccine protects people from the types of HPV that usually cause cervical cancer. But the key is to get the vaccine before there’s a chance of being exposed to HPV.
Children can get the HPV vaccine as early as age 9, but most providers recommend it for preteens ages 11–12. We suggest that people younger than 26 get the vaccine if they haven’t had it already. Your provider can help you know if and when the vaccine is right for you. Providers have safely administered the HPV vaccine to young women for more than a decade.
Schedule regular cervical cancer screenings
Even after receiving the HPV vaccine, women should plan on cervical cancer screenings. There are two main screening tests, the more well-known Pap test and the HPV test. The Pap test looks for cells on the cervix that may become cervical cancer. The HPV test looks for signs of HPV, which can lead to cervical cancer.
If you have a cervix, we recommend getting your first Pap test at age 21. Consult with your gynecologist regarding specific screening recommendations that are right for you. You may need screenings more often if the test results are abnormal or you’re at a higher risk of cervical cancer. When cervical cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, the five-year relative survival rate is 92 percent. With it being Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, make it a priority to get a routine screening, and if you haven’t already, make sure your children receive the HPV vaccine. It can save their life.
Nicholas Lambrou, MD, FACOG, FACS, is the chief of gynecologic oncology at Luminis Health. Lambrou’s areas of interest include the treatment of women with gynecologic cancer, cancer prevention strategies and advanced gynecologic surgery.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here