January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

cervical-cancer-awarenessJanuary is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month; dedicated to encouraging early detection and prevention of cervical cancer. Each year approximately 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and roughly one third will not survive the illness. Like most cancers, cervical cancer can be highly treatable if detected early through regular cancer screenings and can even be prevented entirely with proper immunization. However, in women who lack adequate information or health care and are unable to receive these preventative measures, cervical cancer can be a serious, and even fatal, illness.

It is estimated that three quarters of all reproductive-age people have been infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes cervical cancer, at some point in their lives. In the majority of the population, this virus produces no symptoms and the body is able to clear it on its own. However, in about 5% of women the infection is with a high-risk strain of HPV, which accounts for nearly all cases of cervical cancer. These high-risk strains of the virus are the main targets of the HPV vaccine that is available today. This vaccine can protect women against the two most common high risk strains (HPV 16 and 18) and the two most common low risk strains (HPV 6 and 11). This vaccine should be given at a young age (age 11 – 26), before sexual activity, and is also recommended for boys and men to prevent the spread of the virus to women.

thCAGFH0KZIn addition to receiving the vaccination, it is important that every woman get tested regularly. This includes a pap smear and an HPV test to identify women at risk for getting cervical cancer. Because cervical cancer is a slow disease, abnormal cells can be identified on a pap smear before the woman is considered to have cervical cancer. By combining this test with an HPV screening in women over 30, we can identify women at risk for cervical cancer so they get screenings more often. If the abnormal cells are allowed to progress to cervical cancer, it can potentially spread to the bladder, intestines, lungs, and liver. Cervical Cancer symptoms may not show up until much later, when the disease is advanced, and include unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge, longer or heavier periods, and bleeding after menopause. It is important not to let the disease progress this far and to receive your HPV vaccine and pap smear today.

Talk with your health care provider today. Know your risk.

For more information, visit http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/

South County Internal Medicine
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