What do Eva Peron, Henrietta Lacks, Colleen Dewhurst, and Yvette Wilson have in common?
They ALL died from cervical cancer. Could these deaths have been prevented today? It is quite likely so.
As January’s Cervical Cancer Awareness Month ends, I reflect upon the approximately 12,170 people who were diagnosed with cervical cancer last year. Despite increased screening and surveillance efforts, it is estimated that 4,220 women died from cervical cancer in 2012. (1)
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer involves the the female reproductive tract. It is caused by the sexually-transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV). Although there are hundreds of types of HPV, HPV types 16, 18, 31, 33, and 45 are most commonly implicated. Treatment and/or cure are possible with early detection and screening.
Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer:
Long-term oral contraceptive use
Early age at first sexual intercourse
Multiple sexual partners
Multiparity (having given birth to 3 or more children)
HIV infection (3,4)
(Image Description: Abnormal tissue changes in the cervix that may lead to invasive cervical cancer. (Image credit – Haymanj/Public Domain) )
The best way to prevent cervical cancer is by vaccination of girls and boys aged 9-12 through age 26. Boys are vaccinated as well because they may acquire and harbor HPV through sexual contact. The cervical cancer vaccine has an efficacy of 75% or greater against the types of HPV that most commonly cause cervical cancer. (5, 6)
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has listed screening guidelines on its website. These guidelines are based on the recommendations of a collaborative working group consisting of the United States Preventive Task Force and the American Cancer Society(ACS)/ American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology(ASCCP)/American Society for Clinical Pathology(ASCP). Pap smears with cytologic examination beginning at age 21 are recommended with a frequency of every 3 years until age 30.
After age 30, DNA testing for high-risk HPV types should be performed in conjunction with screening and cytologic examination every 5 years in the event that screening with cytologic examination every 3 years is not done. In fact, ACS/ASCCP/ASCP strongly recommends the former. Cervical cancer screening is not recommended for women over the age of 65.
(Image Description: Cytology showing cervical cancer – specifically squamous cell carcinoma – in the cervix. (Image Credit: National Cancer Institute) )
Of course, all of the above recommendations are for healthy women. Women in whom abnormalities are detected upon cervical examination should diligently follow the treatment recommendations of their health care providers. (7)
Learn more about cervical cancer and cervical cancer screening at http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/pap/default.htm.
1. “Cervical Cancer.” National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/cervical. Retrieved January 28, 2013.
2. Kumar, Vinay, Abbas, Abul K., Fausto, Nelson, Mitchell, Richard. “Chapter 19 The Female Genital System and Breast”. Robbins Pathologic Basis of Disease (8th ed.). (2007).
3. “Cervical Cancer:Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention Topics.” American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervicalcancer/detailedguide/cervical-cancer-risk-factors. Retrieved January 28, 2013.
4. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Cervical Cancer.” Mayo Clinic Website. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cervical-cancer/DS00167/DSECTION=risk-factors. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
5. “Gardasil®.” Gardasil® Website. http://www.gardasil.com/what-is-gardasil/cervical-cancer-vaccine/index.html?WT.mc_id=GL0ES&MTD=2. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
6. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Sexual Health.” Mayo Clinic Website. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cervical-cancer-vaccine/WO00120. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
7. “New Cervical Cancer Screening Recommendations from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society/American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology/American Society for Clinical Pathology.” American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology Website. http://www.acog.org/About%20ACOG/Announcements/New%20Cervical%20Cancer%20Screening%20Recommendations.aspx. Retrieved January 28, 2013.