Nearly 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. Here are seven important things you should know about the risks and prevention of cervical cancer:
- All women are at risk.Unless you have had your cervix removed for noncancerous conditions (like fibroids), you can develop cervical cancer, which is caused by abnormal cell growth.
- Black women with cervical cancer die at a higher rate.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women have more than twice the mortality rate of white women. Unfortunately, most of these deaths occur in women who have not been screened in the past five years or who have never been screened. The Black Women’s Health Imperative has an initiative to increase awareness of the disease, as well as screening and prevention.
- A Pap test screens for cervical cancer.The Pap test is the most effective way to find and prevent cervical cancer. In addition to screening for cervical cancer, the Pap test looks for cell changes (precancerous cells) that can be treated before escalating to cancer.
- HPV is almost always the cause.The human papillomavirus (HPV) has more than 150 strains and is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact—usually through sex. HPV can infect cells, causing genital warts and even cervical cancer. HPV is actually quite common—most women (and men) will have it at some point. Usually, HPV is nonthreatening and goes away on its own; however, it can cause cervical and other types of cancers. Your doctor can test for HPV during your exam.
- There is an HPV vaccine.The HPV vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of HPV when administered properly (however, even if you have been vaccinated, you should still see your doctor for routine Pap tests).Known by the brand name Gardasil 9, the HPV vaccine protects against:
- HPV types 16 and 18 — the 2 types that cause 80% of cervical cancer cases.
- HPV types 6 and 11, which cause 90% of genital warts cases.
- Another 5 types of HPV (types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58) that can lead to cancer of the cervix, anus, vulva/vagina, penis, or throat.
The HPV vaccine is given in a series of three shots over the course of six months for people ages 15-45. People ages 9-14* will only need two shots about six months apart.
- You may not have symptoms.Women with cervical cancer may not show any signs early on. In more advanced stages, cervical cancer can cause abnormal bleeding or discharge from thevagina, such as bleeding after sex. If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor.
- Smokers have a higher risk.Women who smoke cigarettes are more susceptible to developing cervical cancer.
Everything you need to know about cervical cancer
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a wealth of information available about cervical cancer, including:
- symptoms, risk factors and screening tests
- diagnosis and treatment
- how to find low-cost breast and cervical cancer screenings
Click here to learn more.
*The CDC recommends all girls and boys get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12 as the vaccine produces a stronger immune response when taken during the preteen years. The vaccine has a very good safety record. More than 46 million doses have been distributed and studies continue to show that the vaccine is effective and safe.