January is Cervical Health Awareness Month!

Around 12,900 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed and around 4,100 women will die of cervical cancer in the next year. Furthermore, around 79 million Americans currently have human papillomavirus or HPV. With regular screening and a vaccine, both cervical cancer and HPV can be prevented.

What is cervical cancer?

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus also called the uterine cervix. The cervix connects the main part of the uterus to the vagina

The cells do not automatically become cancerous, rather the normal cells begin to develop as precancerous which eventually can become cancer

There are two different kinds of cervical cancer, squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma

  • Sign and symptoms include abnormal vaginal bleeding, unusual discharge, and pain during sex
  • These signs and symptoms can be caused by other conditions, please consult a health care professional if you have any of these or an irregular Pap test

Risk factors for cervical cancer are: HPV infection, smoking, immunosuppression and past/current chlamydia infection

What is human papillomavirus or HPV?

HPV is part of a group of over 150 viruses, some which cause papillomas, also known as warts

  • HPV can infect cells on the surface of all skin linings from the mouth and throat, to the genitals and anus
  • HPV spreads from person to person via skin-skin contact; it can also be spread via sexual intercourse whether vaginal, anal, or oral
  • HPV can affect both boys and girls, men and women, prevention is most effective at a younger age

How can HPV be detected?

  • A Pap test or a Pap smear

    • A Pap smear can be done during a routine pelvic exam at your annual OB/GYN appointment
    • A collection of cells from the cervix is taken, the cells are then placed on a glass slide and examined under a microscope for any pre-malignant/malignant cancerous changes

  • A HPV test, which is only available for women, can also detect the virus

 What is the HPV vaccine and why is it important?

The HPV vaccination is recommended for 11-12 year old girls and is also recommended for women age 13-26 whom did not complete the vaccine series or have not been vaccinated

HPV vaccines help to target the most common HPV types causing cervical cancer. Other vaccines help to protect against genital warts

  • HPV vaccines do not treat a pre-existing infection and they are also less effective in women who have been exposed to one or more HPV type
  • It is important that girls and women get all three doses of the HPV vaccine to ensure efficacy