By Deborah Dotters, MD and Cynthia Pappas
Cervical cancer takes a terrible toll; nearly a dozen women die from cervical cancer every day in the United States alone.
The tragedy is especially cruel because these deaths are for the most part preventable. With regular checkups and prompt action when signs of cervical cancer are found, the disease is largely curable.
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, and this New Year is an excellent time to resolve to follow proper cervical checkup and vaccination steps. You’ll be doing you and your family a great service.
We have two basic measures of protection to against this type of cancer. One is regular screenings, called “Pap” tests, which most women should get routinely between the ages of 21 and 65.
The other is getting the HPV vaccine. HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It’s a very common sexually transmitted infection and it is one of the main causes of cervical cancer.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that girls, as young as 11, and before they become sexually active, should be vaccinated. Boys and young men should be vaccinated, too, to prevent transmission of the disease. Because men also can contract certain types of cancer caused by HPV, the vaccination is helpful for both young men and young women, according to the CDC.
The good news is the extreme effectiveness of vaccines against certain types of HPV, according to the Centers for Disease Control. HPV is transmitted during skin-on-skin sexual contact — not just intercourse — and once transmitted, the virus cannot be eliminated by vaccination.
With careful screening and quick action, cervical cancer can be stopped.
The reason for the high cure rate is due to how HPV attacks the body. Most times, HPV infections go away without treatment. But sometimes, infections persist, aggravating a cellular growth process in the cervix that can gradually turn into cancer. The Pap test takes a few cells from the cervical canal — the opening of the uterus — and checks for abnormal cells that can lead to cancer. Pap tests can detect pre-cancerous cells, and early detection means early treatment to eliminate the infection before it becomes cancerous.
Planned Parenthood has been advocating for family health and reproductive rights for nearly 100 years, and has a long track record of providing cervical health services, including Pap tests and HPV vaccines, for both men and women.
As the leading women’s health care provider, advocate, and educator in Southwestern Oregon, Planned Parenthood wants families to put cervical care at the top of their to-do list this month. And our readily accessible health centers — offering professional, nonjudgmental, and confidential care — are here to help.
Families should be taking the following steps with regard to cervical health:
- Talk with your medical provider or Planned Parenthood about getting the HPV vaccine for your daughters or sons. The vaccine is recommended for girls and boys age 11 through 26, who have not previously been vaccinated.
- For women, get an initial Pap test at age 21, plus Pap tests every three years until age 29.
- After that, continue getting a Pap test every three years until age 64, or every five years if you are getting a combined Pap/HPV test. You may need more frequent tests if there are certain abnormalities, which you can discuss with your care provider.
It’s important to remember that cervical cancer is serious. Every year, about 12,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and about 4,000 American women die of the disease.
Planned Parenthood is a great resource for information and services on a whole range of health issues, from family planning and birth control to breast cancer and sexually transmitted illnesses.
Together let’s check off “excellent cervical health” on our wish list for 2013.
Dr. Deborah Dotters is the Medical Director for Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon.
Cynthia Pappas is Chief Executive Officer of Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon, which operates health centers in Eugene, Springfield, Medford, Grants Pass, Ashland, Cottage Grove, and Florence. (http://www.plannedparenthood.org/ppsworegon/, (541) 344-9411.)