As this month comes to a close, we encourage women to take a few moments to think about their cervical health, specifically how they can reduce their cervical cancer risk by protecting themselves from human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer Risk Statistics
Nearly 13,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with it this year and over 4,000 women will die of the disease. Cervical cancer is a highly preventable form of cancer, making this a great tragedy.
There is no evidence that cervical cancer is inherited. In fact, cervical cancer is most commonly caused by HPV, a prevalent sexually transmitted disease. In fact, about 80 million Americans—both men and women—currently have HPV, yet most are unaware of their status.
Early cervical cancers and pre-cancers usually have no symptoms, but it’s vital to detect cervical cancers in the early stages for successful treatment. That’s why it’s critical for anyone with a cervix to be screened regularly for cervical cancer and HPV.
Of the estimated 100 strains of HPV, only 15 actually cause cervical cancer or are considered high-risk for causing cancer. In addition to cervical cancer, HPV can cause vaginal and vulval cancers, penile cancer, anal cancer, oropharaynx cancer, and genital warts.
The HPV vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, is recommended for pre-teens and anyone under the age of 26. Getting vaccinated before sexual activity starts is best, but it’s recommended to get vaccinated regardless. The vaccine is given in 3 shots over 7 months. These vaccines can protect people from cancers that develop 20 to 40 years after exposure to the virus. HPV infection rates have dropped significantly since the vaccine was released.
There’s a lot women can do to protect themselves from getting HPV and cervical cancer, but the greatest strides in fighting cervical cancer have been through early screening. The cervical cancer death rate has decreased by nearly 70% from 1955-1992, primarily due to the introduction of and widespread use of pap smears. This now-common screening test can identify abnormal changes in the cervix before it develops into cancer, as well as find cancer in its earliest, and thus most curable, stages.
Learn More About Cervical Cancer
To learn more about cervical cancer, how to reduce your risk, and more, check out the infographic below, created by Mount Sinai.