Recently, sports journalist Erin Andrews confirmed that she had undergone surgery for cervical cancer. By making her diagnosis and treatment public, Andrews provided an important reminder to all women that cervical cancer screenings save lives. Once a common cause of death among women, the cervical cancer death rate has decreased substantially over the past 40 years, primarily because of Pap tests which detect cervical cancer in its earliest and most preventable stage.
Although Pap tests have been used to screen for cervical cancer for decades, the guidelines for when women should be screened have changed in recent years. It was once considered a healthcare necessity for women to undergo an annual Pap test. These guidelines have been revised due to new research and advances in preventive care. The American Cancer Society and the US Preventive Services Task Force now recommend that healthy women begin cervical cancer screenings at age 21 with Pap tests every three years. At age 30, women should have a Pap test combined with an HPV test every five years. Women over the age of 65 may not need to continue screening if there has not been a history of significant cervical pre-cancer and her screening has been adequate. Of course, these guidelines do not apply to all women. Depending on specific circumstances, a woman may require other testing or continued screening. This is why it’s important to discuss your specific screening needs with your healthcare provider.
Understanding the Link between HPV and Cervical Cancer
Certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) cause nearly all cases of cervical cancer. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. In fact, it’s so common that the vast majority of sexually active men and women acquire it at some point in their lives. There are many types of the HPV virus. Yet, only some cause cervical cancer, as well as other cancers, including cancer of the vulva, vagina, anus, throat and tonsils. Cancer caused by HPV is generally slow-growing and can take years and even decades to develop.
The best way to reduce the spread of HPV infection is through vaccination. The HPV vaccine is highly effective in protecting females, as well as males against HPV when given in the recommended age group. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend 11 to 12-year-olds receive two doses of HPV vaccine to protect against developing cancers caused by HPV. Catch-up vaccines are recommended for males through age 21 and for females through age 26 if they haven’t been previously vaccinated.
“Cervical cancer screening and HPV vaccinations have the potential to virtually eliminate cervical cancer,” say Dr. Andrew Menzin, Chief of Gynecologic Oncology for Northwell Physician Partners, Central Region. “It’s essential for healthcare providers to help their patients understand what they can do to proactively mitigate their risk of this highly preventable form of cancer.”
Cervical Cancer Treatment
For the over 11,000 women in the United States who develop cervical cancer each year, there is also good news. Those who are diagnosed with cervical cancer in its earliest and most preventable stage have a very high survival rate. In other words, be an advocate in your health by ensuring you’re staying current with life-saving cervical cancer screenings.
Learn more about cervical cancer prevention. At Katz Institute for Women’s Health, we’re here to answer your questions. Call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-5494 to speak to a women’s health specialist.