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Cervical Cancer Facts vs. Fiction with Dr. Joseph de la Garza

January 27, 2021

When it comes to women’s health and cancer, misinformation abounds. Joseph de la Garza, M.D., FACOG, gynecologic oncologist at Texas Oncology–San Antonio Medical Center and Westover Hills, believes this is especially true for cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer occurs when cells form in the cervix or the lower part of a woman’s uterus and is primarily caused by HPV, or human papillomavirus. Once a leading cause of cancer death in the United States, cervical cancer diagnoses and deaths have decreased dramatically due to prevention and early detection. In 2021, the American Cancer Society estimates approximately 14,480 new cervical cancer diagnoses in women in the U.S.

Cervical cancer is largely a preventable and treatable disease, but we still see too many cases in the U.S. and globally.”

“Cervical cancer is largely a preventable and treatable disease, but we still see too many cases in the U.S. and globally. To make a bigger impact we need to increase awareness, particularly around the importance of screenings and availability of the HPV vaccine,” said Dr. de la Garza.

Improving awareness means correcting misinformation. Dr. de la Garza shares some of the most common myths and misconceptions he hears from patients.

Fact: Screenings and pap tests are important for women of all ages, including those who are otherwise healthy.

“Some women tend to think they no longer need to have exams after they have children, and they stop going to their appointments,” said Dr. de la Garza, noting exams identify pre-cancerous cells and stop the growth of cancer before it begins. “When you’re healthy, you don’t always remember or feel motivated to have routine screenings, but it’s the best thing you can do for cancer prevention and early detection.”

Fact: Cervical cancer is one of the only cancers that can be prevented with a vaccine.

“The HPV vaccine is highly effective in preventing cervical cancer. It can be given to people between the ages of nine to 45 and protects against the nine most high-risk types of HPV. It is most effective when given to young women and young men prior to being exposed to HPV through sexual activity,” said Dr. de la Garza.

Fact: Pap tests are not comprehensive. They are specific to the cervix.

The pap test is one part of the pelvic screening, but it’s not the same thing. Pelvic screenings may include detection for things like fibroids, uterine cancer, and ovarian cancer. This is why staying on schedule with screenings is so important.

Ultimately, Dr. de la Garza said he wants patients to know that there is no shame in being diagnosed with cervical cancer or HPV: “As a gynecologic oncologist, I have treated many women who don’t feel comfortable talking about their cervical cancer diagnosis because it is caused by HPV. But we have all the tools available to prevent and treat it – and their experiences can help raise awareness for other women.”

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.