HPV and cervical cancer

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Rachel Briney
Nelson County Health Dept.

Cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women worldwide. In the United States, 30 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 11 women die from it every day. Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells begin to develop and multiply on the cervix — the lower part of the uterus (womb) that connects to the vagina in females. Cervical cancer usually has no symptoms, and is not hereditary like some other cancers. It typically develops very slowly, and patients usually do not have any problems until the cancer is advanced and has spread.
Two types of a very common virus cause 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases — the human papillomavirus (HPV) — the most common sexually transmitted infection. It is so common, that at least 50 percent of sexually active men and women will get it at some point during their lives. In 90 percent of cases however, the body’s immune system clears the virus on its own. When a woman is infected with these two types of HPV, however, if the virus is not cleared by the body, then abnormal cells can develop in the lining of the cervix and pre-cancers and cancers can form.
Routine Pap testing is the best way to find cervical cell changes. Pap tests screen for pre-cancerous changes in the cervix through microscopic examination of cells scraped from the cervix. Most women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer have not had regular Pap tests or have not followed up on abnormal test results. In addition to routine Pap testing, other precautions include regular use of condoms and limiting sexual partners to avoid spreading the HPV virus.
There are also two vaccines (Gardasil and Cervarix) available that can protect women against most cervical cancers. The vaccines protect against the four types of HPV that cause cervical cancer and genital warts. The three-shot vaccine series is recommended for 11- and 12-year-old girls. It is also recommended for girls and young women ages 13 to 26 who have not yet been vaccinated or completed the vaccine series.
Women need to be proactive with their health. Contact your physician today if you are sexually active and it’s been a while since your last Pap test. Speak with your daughter’s pediatrician about the HPV vaccination. Cervical cancer can be a very preventable disease.
For more information, contact the Nelson County Health Department at 348-3222 or Washington County Health Depart- ment at 859-336-3989.