Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting American women. Nearly 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, 50% of whom are between the ages of 35 and 55.
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by specific types of human papillomavirus (HPV).
According to the National Institute of Health, there are more than 100 types of HPV, more than 40 of which are sexually transmitted. About 15 of these types are considered to be cancer-causing, or high-risk types, and two of these high-risk types – HPV-16 and HPV-18 – cause about 80% of cervical cancers worldwide. HPV is very common and it usually goes away on its own, however, persistent cases can cause cellular abnormalities that could develop into cervical cancer without treatment.
Preventing Cervical Cancer
There was no way to prevent cervical cancer until 2006 when the first HPV vaccine was introduced. This vaccine protected against four types of HPV, including the two types that cause most cervical cancers. A new vaccine was approved in 2014 that protects against five additional types of HPV that are responsible for cervical cancer.
The HPV vaccine has been added to the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines for Children, and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all boys and girls should be vaccinated to protect against HPV well-before sexual activity begins – typically around 11 years of age.
Early Detection for Cervical Cancer
A Pap smear involves the scraping of cells in the cervix to be tested for precancerous changes and other abnormalities that can be treated early, before they develop into cancer. Since these exams became commonplace, the mortality rate of cervical cancer declined dramatically.
Women ages 21-65 should have regular Pap tests, so talk with your doctor about the testing interval that’s right for you.