Vaccination, early detection can prevent cervical cancer


There are a lot of ways to prioritize and improve your health this year, which is one of the most common New Year’s resolutions. Eating better and being active are generally at the forefront of goal-setters’ minds when it comes to better health, and for good reason — those are generally the “best buys” when it comes to improving health and preventing chronic disease.  

However, regular checkups, current vaccinations and age-appropriate screenings can also play an important role in improving health and reducing premature death and disability, and would be good to add to the calendar this year. 

In fact, January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month, and according to the American Cancer Society’s estimates, around 12,820 women will be newly diagnosed this year and 4,210 women will die from cervical cancer. The awareness about this form of cancer is more focused on prevention and early detection, because there is a vaccine (HPV) that can prevent it, and effective screening (the Pap test) so that early treatment is possible. So it’s a realistic goal is to have no woman die of cervical cancer.

Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV (Human Papilloma Virus.) The CDC reports that 80 percent of people will get an HPV infection in their lifetime. Most of these infections go away on their own, but those that don’t go away can cause cancer. 

“If there were a vaccine against cancer, wouldn’t you get it for your kids?” a CDC poster reads.

For a few types of cancer, including cervical cancer, the HPV vaccine actually can prevent them. The CDC reports that more than 29,000 cases of cancer each year could be prevented with HPV vaccination. The HPV vaccine protects against the virus strains that are the most common causes of not only cervical cancers, but also penile, anal, and mouth and throat cancer. 

HPV Vaccination is recommended for preteen girls and boys at age 11 or 12, and is a series of two shots (if given before the age of 15) given over several months. It is recommended at the time that preteens get other important vaccines (Tdap and Meningitis) because they are important to be given prior to exposure to HPV. It is for both girls (to prevent cervical cancer) and boys (to prevent spreading HPV to female partners, and also because penile, throat and mouth cancers are also often caused by HPV).

Finding cervical cancer early is key to treatment and survival, and according to the American Cancer Society, the Pap test offers the best chance to have cervical cancer found early.

“If it’s found early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers,” according to the CDC.

In the past 30 years, the cervical cancer death rate has declined by more than 50 percent, in large part because of the Pap test and HPV vaccine. If caught in the pre-cancerous stage, abnormal cells can be treated and prevented from becoming cancer. 

The current recommendations for screening are: 

• Women aged 21-29 years, Pap test every 3 years. 

• Women aged 30-65 years, Pap test and an HPV test every 5 years, or Pap test alone every 3 years.

• Women over 65 years, if regular screening in previous 10 years, should stop Pap testing if no serious pre-cancers found in last 20 years.

Those with questions about the HPV vaccine or screening can call Public Health at (307) 789-9203.

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