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Examiner
  • Lori Boyajian-O'Neill: Fighting cervical cancer

  • Cervical cancer is the fifth leading cause of death from cancer in the world. In the United States it is not among the top 12. Why? American women benefit from a most successful cervical cancer awareness campaign that advocates for education and access to screening for early detection.

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  • Cervical cancer is the fifth leading cause of death from cancer in the world. In the United States it is not among the top 12. Why? American women benefit from a most successful cervical cancer awareness campaign that advocates for education and access to screening for early detection.
    Still, there is concern that while rates of deaths from other cancers are declining, rates for cervical cancer remain unchanged. January is Cervical Cancer Month. 
    Cervical cancer, what do you know? T or F?
    1. Human papilloma virus causes almost all cervical cancers.
    2. There are no vaccines for cervical cancer.
    3. Tobacco use increases risk for cervical cancer.
    Every year 11,000 American women are told that they have cervical cancer, and about 4,000 die from the disease. The average age at diagnosis is 48 years. Smokers, age at first intercourse and those with multiple sexual partners are at increased risk. Black and Hispanic women are at higher risk of dying from the disease, possibly due to barriers to healthcare access and follow-up care. Women are screened for cervical cancer at the Well Woman Examination. In states where rates of Well Woman Examination were lowest (Mississippi and Alabama) rates of cervical cancer were highest.
    Human papilloma virus causes almost all cervical cancer. This virus invades cells of the female (and male) genitalia and oral and anal mucosa potentially converting normal cells to cancer. HPV is generally transmitted through sexual contact and is linked to cervical, oropharyngeal, anal, vaginal, vulvar and penile cancers. 
    During the Well Woman Examination, cervical cancer screening is performed by swabbing the cervix to obtain cells that are sent to a laboratory for Pap and/or HPV testing. In a Pap test a technician examines cervical cells for any abnormalities suggestive of pre-cancer or cancerous changes. HPV testing is a laboratory test to detect viral DNA. The Pap test is recommended every three years beginning at age 21. The National Cancer Institute recommends Pap with HPV testing every 5 years between ages 30 and 65. Those with abnormal cells will be on a different, individualized schedule.
    While cancer rates for the most common cancers, (prostate, breast, lung, colorectal and melanoma) are decreasing, the incident rates of HPV-associated cancers remain basically unchanged. In 2006 the first vaccine against HPV, Gardisil, was approved and in 2010, another vaccine, Cervarix, joined the market. They are approved for girls 9 years and older with recommendation to begin vaccination for girls between 11 and 12 years old. They are given as a series of three injections. The goal is to develop immunity before age of first sexual contact, but regardless of sexual history, all teens and women through age 26 are advised to receive the vaccine.
    As of 2010, only about 48 percent of those age 13-17 received one dose of the vaccine and 32 percent received all three doses. The vaccines do not protect against all types of HPV, but rather are targeted to those types that cause cancer.  Gardisil is also approved for boys and young men through age 26.
    Page 2 of 2 - Cancer is the number one killer worldwide and currently in the U.S. one in four deaths are due to cancer. We are desperate for cures. When research brings us vaccines to prevent cervical cancer there is cause for celebration. Among overhyped news about “medical breakthroughs” this is truly a sentinel advancement.
    To learn more about HPV and cervical cancer access the CDC at www.cdc.gov/hpv or contact your physician.
    The life you save may be your own. Or your daughter’s. 
    Answers:  1.  T  2.  F  3.  T
     
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