January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

That pink is the official color for breast cancer awareness is a widely known fact. Do you have a guess on the color for cervical cancer awareness?

It’s teal and white. With January recognized as Cervical Health Awareness Month, it is important to make sure women understand the updated guidelines for annual exams as well as the latest information on a vaccine to prevent this cancer.

Compared to other cancers, cervical cancer affects far fewer women — less than 13,000 cases diagnosed in the United States in 2016.

The main messages on cervical cancer are that if detected early through screening, it can be treated successfully. Also, the Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine can significantly reduce the risk of cervical cancer.

Banner Health Clinic obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Tedd McDonald emphasizes the importance of prevention.

“Vaccination is at the forefront,” he said. “It’s what we need to do in the future.”

Women should know the latest recommendations for the HPV vaccine. The first thing to know about HPV is there are different types. While some cause genital warts, other types are linked to cervical cell changes that can increase the risk for cervical cancer. Secondly, the HPV vaccine can help prevent infection for both types of the virus, especially when administered during the preteen years.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control changed its recommendation to only two doses of the HPV vaccine compared to the previous three. While women should still get examined every year even if they have the vaccine, the vaccine does reduce the risk of cervical cancer.

In Nevada, only 27 percent of girls and 7 percent of boys between the ages of 13-17 received the three-dose HPV vaccination. The national average is 38 percent for girls and 14 percent for boys. Boys can contract and spread HPV through sexual contact with a person who has the virus. HPV also is known to cause rectal and throat cancer in men and women, which is why the vaccine is recommended for both sexes.

Dr. McDonald stressed that the vaccine has resulted in a significant drop in the number of cases of cervical cancer.

“It is like the polio or chicken pox vaccine in that its global use will reduce cervical cancer to a rare event,” he said.

Screening remains an important tool in detecting cancers early. Pap smears are recommended for women every three years beginning at age 21. Women should still get a wellness exam annually so the provider can physically assess whether a cervical cancer test is needed. A Pap test can identify cell changes in the cervix and let health care providers know if a woman has a high risk for cervical cancer. Because cervical cancer is slow growing and sometimes has no symptoms, it can most effectively be treated when caught early.

According to information from the Nevada Cancer Coalition, 58.4 percent of cervical cancers in Nevada are diagnosed as late-stage, higher than national average of 49 percent. Early-stage diagnosis, found through screening, offers a five-year relative survival rate of 91.5 percent. More advanced stages of cervical cancer at time of diagnosis offer a much lower five-year relative survival rate at less than 58 percent.


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