The United States Congress along
with the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) have recognized "January"
as the "National Cervical Health Awareness Month" to stress the importance of
early cancer detection.
The cervix is the lower, narrow
end of the uterus, which connects the vagina to the upper part of the uterus.
is a type of gynecological cancer that affects around 12,000
women every year in the United States. Teal and White Ribbon is used as an
emblem to represent cervical cancer.
‘Cervical Cancer is highly preventable and treatable if diagnosed early. January is the month to raise awareness about cervical cancer screening and HPV vaccination.’
Who Gets Cervical Cancer?
All women are susceptible to
cervical cancer and the main of cause of the cancer is Human Papillomavirus
is a very common virus that gets transmitted
through sexual intercourse. It infects the genital areas with no signs or symptoms and goes away on its own.
HPV does not disappear, it turns out to be a potential risk factor for cervical
cancer. HPV alters the normal cells into abnormal cells that could turn into
cancer cells gradually. Cervical cancer does not show any symptoms until at an advanced stage, associated with
signs of vaginal bleeding
Cervical Cancer Screening
Cervical cancer is a
highly preventable cancer and therefore, cancer screening is recommended for
diagnosing the disease early. Regular screening tests and
follow-up care can often prevent cervical cancer.
There are two types of tests to
detect cervical cancer early or prevent it. It includes,
The Papanicolaou test
or PAP smear
helps in identifying pre-cancer cells or abnormal cells before they turn into cancer cells. Women should get their first
PAP test at the age of 21. It is generally recommended for women between
21-65-years-old. A Pap smear can only detect cervical cancer and not other
HPV test looks for Human
papillomavirus (HPV) in the cervix and also pre-cancer cells. HPV test is not
recommended for women below 30 years as the prevalence of HPV in them is
higher. All women who have had sex will have the virus, about 79 million people
are infected with HPV in the United States.
HPV test is a must for women
older than 30 years. HPV emerges as a health threat only on prolonged
existence of the virus in the body due to the body's inability
to fight off HPV.
If the PAP test
result is normal
it means that no cells were found to be abnormal and there is no
of cervical cancer.
If the PAP test
result is unclear;
it means that the cervical cells look like they could be abnormal
after an HPV test the results can be interpreted.
If the PAP test
result is abnormal
it means that there are some abnormal cells
cervix. But it does not mean that one may have cervical cancer. Only the more
serious abnormal cells can turn into cancer cells, but they
are not yet cancer.
A negative HPV test
the absence of HPV linked to cervical cancer. A positive HPV test
indicates the presence of HPV linked to cervical cancer.
If the HPV test
result is negative
test result is negative; cervical cancer risk is minimal and one must wait
for 5 years before testing again.
test result is unclear; the cells may be abnormal, but it is not linked to
test result is positive; the cells are abnormal in nature and risk of
cervical cancer is high. These abnormal cells can
be treated before they turn into cancerous cells.
If the HPV test
result is positive
test result is negative; the cells are normal but has HPV. The virus can
disappear or alter the cells gradually. Therefore, get
another Pap and HPV test in 1 year.
test result is unclear; the cells will be removed to prevent further
test result is positive; it does not mean the cells are cancer. Doctor may
monitor the cells using colposcopy or remove them to prevent cervical
One can stop getting screened for cervical cancer, if they are above 65 years of age
and have had negative Pap test results for
many years or have removed the cervix
as part of a total hysterectomy
Importance of HPV Vaccination
There is no treatment for HPV but
it can be prevented using HPV vaccine. The HPV vaccine
protects against the HPV types that most often cause cervical cancer. The two most common
high-risk strains are HPV 16 and 18 and the two most common low-risk types are HPV 6 and 11.
HPV vaccine is
given in 3 shots. The vaccine is recommended for girls in the age group of 11-12
years. It can be given to women aged 13-26 who did not get any or all of the
shots yet. Ideally, the vaccine must be given before
the girl becomes sexually active. The HPV vaccine is also recommended for boys
and young men. Pregnant women should not be administered with the HPV vaccine
associated with vaccinating preteens prevents doctors from recommending the
vaccine for teenagers. However, since preteens and teenagers do engage in
sexual intercourse and as HPV transmission can also occur through contact with
skin, administering the HPV vaccine to preteens will limit risk for HPV
Important to note:
Women who are already vaccinated with HPV must still
undergo Pap tests as the vaccine does not prevent all
types of HPV.
Ways to Prevent Cervical Cancer
- Consult a doctor regularly and undergo for cancer screening
- Take routine Pap tests, at least once every 3 years or every 5
years along with the HPV tests.
- Follow up the tests with your doctor and get treatmented if
- Get screened for cancer even if you feel healthy or are
- Quit smoking.
- Use condoms during sex.
- Limit the number of sexual partners.
- Create awareness about the importance of HPV vaccine for
pre-teens among parents. Both boys and girls need the vaccine.
- Encourage healthcare providers to give
free or reduced-cost "Pap Tests."