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Cervical Cancer: Unveiling the Facts, Prevention, and Empowerment for a Healthier Future

Publication: The Pittsburg Gazette

If there were a solution to potentially eradicate a form of cancer, would you opt in? When it comes to preventing cervical cancer, that’s a decision people around the world have the option to make.  

Cervical cancer ranks as the fourth most common cancer among women worldwide. In the United States alone, nearly 14,000 new diagnoses were expected in 2023, with more than 4,300 deaths. In Texas, more than 1,500 new cases of cervical cancer were expected in 2023.  

It is a scientific fact that many of these cases and deaths are preventable.  

Cervical Cancer and HPV 

The risk factor most associated with developing cervical cancer is the presence of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and the cause of more than 90% of all cervical cancers.  

Approximately 13 million Americans are infected with HPV every year. Primarily transmitted through skin-to-skin or skin-to-mucosa contact, around 40 types of HPV can infect the genital areas and 13 HPV types can cause cervical cancer. 

While non-sexual transmission of HPV can occur, the predominate way HPV is transmitted is through sexual contact.   

The HPV Vaccine: Eradicating Cervical Cancer 

The HPV vaccine, first produced in 2006, is a crucial preventive measure against HPV infections. Garadasil-9, the vaccine available in the U.S., protects against nine of the most common cancer-causing HPV strains. With more than 135 million doses distributed in the U.S., the vaccine has proven to be safe and effective in preventing HPV infection and cervical cancer.  

The vaccine is recommended beginning around age 11 through age 26, regardless of gender, and is most effective when administered before the person becomes sexually active. Vaccinating before exposure to the virus means HPV infections can be avoided, contributing to the collective effort to reduce and eventually eradicate the incidence of cervical cancer. 

According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV infections and cervical precancers have dropped steadily since the HPV vaccine was introduced in the U.S. Infections that cause most HPV-related cancers have dropped among both young adult women (81% decrease) and teen girls (88% decrease), and cervical precancers caused by HPV have dropped by 40% among vaccinated women. 

As more people get vaccinated, cervical cancer could be nearly eliminated, preventing thousands of deaths each year. While decisions about vaccines are, of course, deeply personal, when it comes to the HPV vaccine and cancer risk, conversations with a pediatrician or trusted healthcare provider are recommended. For adolescents and young adults, the data is clear that the vaccine is effective in preventing cervical cancer.  

Screening for Cervical Cancer 

Early detection of cancer significantly improves treatment outcomes and saves lives, which is why regular screenings are vital for those between the ages of 21 to 65. Cervical cancer is most frequently diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44, but older women are still susceptible to developing cervical cancer. Pap smears and HPV tests at annual exams can detect abnormalities long before they develop into cancer.  

A cervical cancer diagnosis does not mean that the person was careless or indicate anything about sexual history. It is important to reject unfounded stigmas and misconceptions that could prevent people from getting vaccinated or seeking care due to fear of judgment – and with that, create a barrier to the eradication of one of the most preventable cancers.  

Get Informed, Get Screened, Get Vaccinated 

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Empowering individuals with accurate information about cervical cancer and HPV vaccination is pivotal to clarify misconceptions. Encouraging discussions and regular screenings can normalize preventive measures. Great strides are being made in treatment as well, but there is still more work to be done to improve access to care and availability of screening.  

Nayyar T. Syed, M.D., is a medical oncologist and hematologist at Texas Oncology–Pittsburg, 408 Quitman Street Suite B in Pittsburg, Texas. For more information, visit TexasOncology.com.  

This article originally appeared in The Pittsburg Gazette.

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