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Yes, you CAN prevent cervical cancer!

More than 1 million people in the United States get cancer each year. But did you know certain types of cancer can be prevented? Cervical cancer is almost completely preventable, and in this article, we’ll review some strategies.

Dr. Janice Hammond, M.D., FACOG

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb). The normal cells of the cervix can gradually develop pre-cancerous changes that eventually become cancer. It is these changes that are identified by a pap smear. The change from cervical pre-cancer to cervical cancer usually takes several years, but it can happen in less than a year. Treating all pre-cancers can prevent almost all true cancers.

Cervical cancer tends to occur in women ages 30-50, but more than 20% of cases of cervical cancer are found in women over 65. It is extremely rare in women 20 and younger, therefore pap smears are not recommended until age 21.

HPV is a group of more than 80 related viruses. Certain types of HPV may cause warts on or around the female and male genital organs. These are known as genital warts or condyloma acuminatum. Most cases of genital warts are caused by HPV 6 and HPV 11. They are called “low-risk” types of HPV because they are seldom linked to cancer.

Other types of HPV are called “high-risk” types because they are strongly linked to cancers in both men and women. The high-risk types include HPV 16, HPV 18, HPV 31, HPV 33, and HPV 45, as well as some others. There are often no visible signs of infection with a high-risk HPV until pre-cancerous changes or cancer develops.

Infection with HPV is common, and in most people, the body can clear the infection by itself. Sometimes, however, the infection does not go away and becomes chronic. Chronic infection, especially when it is caused by certain high-risk HPV types, can eventually cause certain cancers, such as cervical cancer.

Here are 3 things you can do to PREVENT cervical cancer:
1. Get the HPV vaccine – There are two FDA approved vaccines to protect against HPV. Both vaccines are very successful against HPV 16 and 18 which are responsible for two-thirds of cervical cancers! Both are approved for men and women ages 9 to 26. The ideal time to get the vaccine is BEFORE exposure to HPV.

2. Get your pap smear – Current guidelines recommend pap smears every 2-5 years, based on your age and history of prior pap smears. The Pap test looks for changes in cervical cells caused by HPV infection. Some women are tested for HPV along with the Pap test as a part of screening. Pap smears can identify pre-cancerous cells and treating these pre-cancerous cells can prevent progression to cancer.

3. Quit smoking – Women who smoke are about twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer. Smoking has by-products and chemicals that researchers believe may damage the DNA of cells on the cervix, and may contribute to the development of cervical cancer. Smoking also makes the immune system less effective in fighting HPV infections. 

With these 3 interventions, cervical cancer is almost completely preventable. If you are at risk for cervical cancer, take steps today to lower your risk.

About Eastside Medical Center
Eastside Medical Center has been a leader for 33 years in a wide range of state of the art healthcare, including emergency services, neurosurgery, orthopedics, women’s services, neurosciences, oncology, cardiology, and behavioral health. Eastside is a 310-bed, full-service, acute care medical center with nearly 1,200 employees and 500 affiliated physicians. The hospital is fully accredited by The Joint Commission.  The Eastside Medical Center – South Campus located on Fountain Drive off of Highway 78 in Snellville, provides inpatient psychiatric treatment for adults. It also has a Wound Clinic, Pain Center, and 20-bed Rehab Center.

Janice Hammond, M.D., FACOG
Gwinnett Gynecology
1800 Tree Lane, Suite 300
Snellville, GA 30078