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Preventing Cervical Cancer for a Lifetime PDF Print
Written by Karen L. Giblin   
Thursday, 11 October 2007 04:47

Cervical cancer used to be one of the most common causes of cancer death for women nationwide. Since 1955, the number of deaths from cervical cancer has greatly decreased but it will still claim 3,700 lives of women this year. We have the ability to end cervical cancer in our lifetimes even though 11,150 new cases will be diagnosed in 20071. The good news is the condition is almost entirely preventable. Read on to learn how you can save your own life, or the life of a sister, mother, or friend you love.

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by a virus called human papilloma virus (HPV)2 . Women who have many sexual partners (or who have partners who have had many partners) are more likely to get HPV. Having unprotected sex also increases the chance of having an HPV infection. Quite often, there are no symptoms and may even go away on its own, but for those women at high-risk, it can stay in the body for many years and cause cervical cancer.

For a long time, the Pap test was the primary screening method. With modern medicine and advanced technology, we now have the tools to fight cervical cancer. We can now test for the types of HPV that are most likely to cause cervical cancer through DNA cells. Abnormal cells can be removed before they even become cancerous.

Today, the best approach for assessing risk in older women is through a combination of the Pap Smear and the HPV DNA testing method. Although HPV mainly occurs in younger women but women ages 30 and older should receive Pap Smears and HPV testing3.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) claims most cervical cancer can be prevented. For women of all ages, the best way to do this is to have few sexual partners and not have sex with people who have had many partners. The second way to prevent cervical cancer is to have a Pap test to detect HPV infection and pre-cancers. Here are their guidelines:

  • All women should begin having the Pap test about 3 years after they start having sex but no later than 21 years of age.
  • The test should be done every year if the regular Pap test is used, or every 2 years if the newer liquid-based Pap test is used.
  • Beginning at age 30, women who have had 3 normal test results in a row may get the test every 2 to 3 years. Another option for women over 30 is to have one of the Pap tests every 3 years plus the HPV DNA test.
  • Women who have certain risk factors (HIV infection, weakened immune system) should have a Pap test every year.
  • Women 70 years of age or older who have had 3 or more normal tests in a row (and no abnormal tests in the last 10 years) may choose to stop having the test. But women who have had cervical cancer or who have other risk factors (as mentioned above) should keep on having the test as long as they are in good health.
  • Women who have had a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) for reasons other than having cancer or a precancerous lesion may also choose to stop having the test. Women who have had a simple hysterectomy should continue to follow the guidelines.

According to the ACS, between 60% and 80% of women with cervical cancer in the U.S. have not had a Pap Test in the past 5 years. Many of them have never even had one in their lifetime. This is often the case for the elderly, African-Americans and women with lower than average incomes.

Many women do not realize low-cost and free Pap Tests and mammograms are available in many states. If you think you can't afford a Pap Test or mammogram, call your state's Department of Health. They usually provide testing to women without health insurance for free or at very little cost through a program called the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP). Please pass the word and make the commitment yourself for regular Pap Tests and screenings. Let's do all we can to prevent and end cervical cancer in our lifetimes.

References

1 The American Cancer Society, 2007, Overview: Cervical Cancer

2 Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007

3 American Medical Women's Association, 2007

This article originally appeared in the October 2007 edition of The Menopause Minute.  To view past articles, click here.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 19 November 2009 02:46
 

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