Cervical Cancer and HPV

medical_symbol_md.jpgBy Larry Lucas

Now is a time when many people resolve to do better for themselves in the year ahead – we promise things such as losing weight, being more patient and volunteering. And that lasts until about the time Valentine’s Day chocolates arrive. Coincidence? Probably not. This year, make a resolution that you can keep: encourage the women in your life to take steps that will prevent the development of cervical cancer

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women worldwide. While this disease is less common in the United States than in other countries, it is still hitting our community particularly hard. According to the American Cancer Society, African-American women develop this cancer about 50 percent more often than white women.

The easiest way to prevent cervical cancer is to have a yearly pap smear, a microscopic examination of cells found on a woman’s cervix, preformed through a quick and relatively painless pelvic examination. Pap smears have been credited with helping jumpstart a 70 percent drop in the national cervical cancer death rates over the past six decades.

Cervical cancer is frequently caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually-transmitted virus in the U.S., affecting at least 80 percent of women under the age of 50. Most HPV infections go away naturally, and having HPV does not mean you will get cancer, you are simply at a higher risk, particularly if left undetected. HPV can be present without any noticeable symptoms, so the only way to find out if you have HPV is to get the appropriate screening tests.

HPV and cervical cancer testing are now more available to medically underserved women through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program and California’s Every Woman Counts program. These programs offer testing to women without health insurance for free or at very little cost. You should contact the CDC at www.cdc.gov or 1-800-CDC-INFO for information about the Early Detection Program. You can learn more about the Every Woman Counts screening program by calling 1-800-511-2300. Also, the National Cervical Cancer Coalition provides information, support and resources throughout California. Call 1-800-685-5531 to contact the chapter nearest you.