Health Department

Catch it Early

Cancer-Catch it Early

by Larry D. Jones, MPH, Health Director

January 9, 2012

It’s the start of a new year, a time for us to reflect on our health.

To start the year, I encourage women to contact their health care provider to schedule a yearly Pap test to check for cervical cancer. (Men we will talk later about prostate cancer and the need for these annual checks—I had to go for mine today.) This screening is a crucial part of a woman’s health care regimen, yet one that many overlook.

Approximately 11,000 American women will learn they have cervical cancer this year, and nearly 4,000 will die from an advanced form of the disease. This January, during Cervical Health Awareness Month, the Independence Health Department is encouraging women to speak with their health care providers about annual checkups and testing for cervical cancer. If cervical cancer is caught early, it is a preventable disease.

While routine administration of Pap tests is the best means of detecting cervical cancer at an early stage, vaccines have the potential to protect women from the disease, by targeting cancer-causing types of the human papillomavirus (HPV).

HPV, a virus transmitted through sexual contact, is the single known cause of cervical cancer. Two forms of the virus, HPV 16 and HPV 18, account for more than 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases. HPV vaccines are available for females ages 11 to 26. Contact your health care provider about getting the HPV vaccine.

Experts believe that through a successful education, screening and vaccination programs for women, we will have the potential to nearly eliminate cervical cancer in the U.S.

Cervical cancer can also be prevented with routine cervical cancer screening and follow-up of abnormal results. The Pap test can find abnormal cells on the cervix so that they can be removed before cancer develops. Abnormal cells can sometimes turn into cancer. These cells can usually be treated depending on their severity and on the woman's age, past medical history, and other test results.

An HPV DNA test, which can find HPV on a woman's cervix, may also be used with a Pap test in certain cases. Even women who were vaccinated when they were younger need regular cervical cancer screening because the vaccines do not protect against all cervical cancers.

Other steps to lower the risk for cervical cancer include not smoking, using condoms during sex, and limiting one's number of sexual partners.

Start 2012 off on the right foot and call your provider today to schedule your annual checkup!

Information provided by the National Cervical Cancer Coalition & CDC