Did you know that 13,000 women are diagnosed yearly with a preventable
and treatable cancer, and one-third of them will die as a result? Cervical
cancer is highly preventable in the United States and because of that
we can’t help but want to raise awareness about it. Since it is
Cervical Health month, we thought we would touch on some of the basics
of cervical health, and how it is not just a woman’s issue.
What is Cervical Cancer?
As most of you are aware, cancer starts when cells in the body begin to
grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer
and spread to other areas. Cervical cancer starts in the cells lining
the cervix - the lower part of the uterus (sometimes called the uterine
cervix), which has two different parts, and therefore, is covered by two
different types of cells. The meeting place of these two parts is called
the transformation zone and is where most cervical cancers begin.
The cells in the transformation zone don’t just suddenly turn into
cancer. The normal cells of the cervix first gradually develop pre-cancerous
changes that turn into cancer. Luckily, we have screenings, or Pap tests,
that can detect these pre-cancerous cells that can then be treated. In
the last 30 years, according to the American Cancer Society, the death
rate of cervical cancer has decreased by over 50%, mainly due to the increase
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
While not all cervical cancers are link to the human papilloma virus (HPV)
it is the most common cause. HPV is a large group of related viruses that
are segmented into low-risk and high-risk types. The low-risk types tend
to cause warts internally and externally on male and female reproductive
organs and areas around them. They rarely cause cancer and, therefore,
are considered low-risk.
High-risk types of HPV have been linked to cancer in both men and women.
Doctors worry about the changes and pre-cancers linked to these types
of HPV because they are more likely to cause cancer over time. They have
also been linked to vulvar, penile, anal, vaginal, and mouth and throat cancers.
How is HPV Contracted?
HPV can be passed along from one person to another by skin-to-skin contact
with an infected part of the body, most often through sexual contact.
Often times there are no signs or symptoms of the virus for months, years,
or ever, once contracted.
Can HPV be Prevented?
One the most amazing advances in recent healthcare is the ability to prevent
HPV related cancers by the HPV vaccination. According to the Centers for
Design Control, all children who are 11 or 12 years old should get two
shots of the HPV vaccine six to twelve months apart. A three dose series
is recommended for adolescents who receive two shots less than five months
apart, kids 14 years or older, and those with certain immunocompromising
conditions aged 9 to 26.
Other preventative measures recommended by the American Cancer Society
for women include:
* All women should begin cervical cancer screening at age 21.
* Women ages 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years. They should
not be tested for HPV unless it is needed after an abnormal Pap test result.
* Women ages 30 to 65 should have both a Pap test and an HPV test every
5 years. This is the preferred approach, but it is also OK to have a Pap
test alone every 3 years.
* Women over age 65 who have had regular screenings with normal results
should not be screened for cervical cancer. Women who have been diagnosed
with cervical cancer or pre-cancer should continue to be screened according
to the recommendations of their doctor.
* Women who have had their uterus and cervix removed in a hysterectomy
and have no history of cervical cancer or pre-cancer should not be screened.
* Women who have had the HPV vaccine should still follow the screening
recommendations for their age group.
* Women who are at high risk for cervical cancer may need to be screened
more often. Women at high risk might include those with HIV infection,
organ transplant, or exposure to the drug DES. They should talk with their
doctor or nurse.
* The American Cancer Society no longer recommends that women get a Pap
test every year because it generally takes much longer than that, 10 to
20 years, for cervical cancer to develop and overly frequent screening
could lead to procedures that are not needed.
Additionally, men and women, both, are advised to consider abstinence,
safe sex (such as condoms), and avoid having many sexual partners to prevent
While these guidelines lay the foundation for cervical health, you should
always discuss all options with your healthcare team.
If you’d like to be screened for HPV, our Family and Internal Medicine
specialists are taking new patients and can be reached at the numbers below:
Blue Springs Internal Medicine, 816-228-9841
Family Medical Care Associates, 816-228-1000
Oak Grove Medical Clinic, 816-690-6566