January is an international cervical cancer awareness month. It is as good time as any to remind ourselves that every year about 12,000 American women are diagnosed with cancer of the cervix and about 4000 women die from it. This is a staggering number, considering that cervical cancer is almost completely preventable and is successfully treatable if diagnosed early.
Until about 60 years ago, cervical cancer was one of the most common killer cancers among women in the USA. Education, more accessible medical care and more successful treatments made this type of cancer less of a threat. But, we are still far from danger. Most deaths from cervical cancer are among women with poor education or no access to the regular medical care, mostly from poverty.
According to the American Cancer Society, the main cause of most types of cervical cancer is infection by Human papilloma virus (HPV), a common but normally harmless sexually transmitted infection. Most people will get infected by HPV at some point in their lives, but will not even know about it. But, if you are unlucky, the virus will cause cancerous growth in cervix, an entry part of the uterus. The cancer grows slowly and shows no symptoms until it is well advanced and it has spread.
Vaccines and screening
There are two vaccines available for HPV and doctors recommend that girls as young as nine should be vaccinated. Both Cervarix and Gardasil are effective for most types of HPV, but not all. Vaccines are given in three shots over six months and are most effective if given before girls become sexually active.
The latest research shows that vaccines protect women from HPV throughout their lifetime. But, about 30 percents of HPV do not react to vaccines. This is why Pap tests and regular checkups are crucial for all sexually active women.
The test that can save your life
Gynecologists strongly recommend that all women who are sexually active should have Pap test once a year. Early detection highly increases your chances of successfully treating cervical cancer. Even if you have no symptoms or discomfort, you might be infected with HPV, especially if you have multiple partners. Women over 40 are more vulnerable than younger ones, so the testing for them is even more important. If detected in its pre-cancerous stage, this disease can be successfully treated by your gynecologist with 100 percents success.