• Why one of the most preventable cancers isn't

  • What if I told you that most of you reading this article are carrying a virus that could lead to a cancer that could kill you? It's true.

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  • What if I told you that most of you reading this article are carrying a virus that could lead to a cancer that could kill you? It's true.
    It's believed at least 75 percent of the reproductive-age population has been infected with one or more types of the human papilloma virus (HPV) and more than six million new infections occur each year. It’s estimated that 20 million Americans are now infected with the genital form of this virus. HPV has been linked with several types of cancer, including cervical cancer.
    Each year, some 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. About one-third will die from this disease, even though there is a vaccine to prevent the virus that causes it.
    During Cervical Health Awareness Month, I’m urging my patients, acquaintances and the general public to consider some facts and perhaps add an item to their health resolution lists this year.
    HPV vaccines offer the greatest health benefits to young men and women while they are pre-teens. That’s why I start talking to parents about HPV vaccinations when their students reach the eighth and ninth grades. I also reach out to schools to help educate older students and even faculty on the growing problem and need for this immunization.
    HPV vaccines are given as a series of three shots to protect against HPV infection and HPV-related diseases. The vaccine should be given before an infection occurs, ideally, before sexual activity. Why is it important for both young men and women to be vaccinated? While women are most in danger of dying from the aftermath of an HPV infection, men are also at risk for contracting an increasing number of esophageal and mouth cancers connected with HPV.
    Now, what if I told you very few people who are eligible for the vaccine are choosing to get it? That’s also true.
    Fewer than half of young women who should take advantage of these vaccines have completed the three-dose series. The numbers are much worse for men, as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only approved the vaccine for males in 2010.
    Cervical cancer develops slowly, starting as a precancerous condition known as dysplasia (small abnormalities). Left undetected, dysplasia can turn cancerous and potentially spread to other parts of the body including the bladder, intestines, lungs and liver. Women may not even suspect they have cervical cancer until it has become advanced.
    Just because a female has cervical dysplasia, does not mean she will get cervical cancer. In many cases with young women, dysplasia particles spontaneously heal on their own. What it does mean is that her doctor may want to more closely monitor her cervix to prevent further cell changes that could become cancerous over time if left unchecked.
    Finally, a word about screenings. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force guidelines state that pap tests are not recommended for women under 21. Women between 30 and 64 may only need one every two to three years. HPV tests and standard pelvic exams can catch most issues early.
    Page 2 of 2 - Half of cervical cancers occur among women who are rarely or never screened for the cancer and another 10 to 20 percent occur among women who were screened but did not receive adequate follow-up care. In most cases, cervical cancer can be prevented through early detection and treatment of abnormal cell changes that occur in the cervix years before cervical cancer develops.
    So while we’re making pledges to improve our health this year, I encourage all women to place cervical health high among their priorities.
    Dr. Scharrer is with Grain Valley Family Practice and can be reached at 816-847-2390.

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