24 Jan Cervical Health and Awareness
In my practice I diagnose at least 4-5 women with cervical cancer every year. This year in the United States, over 13,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is quite common, in fact, is estimated that 79 million Americans currently have HPV. The majority of HPV infections cause no harm and the body’s immune system clears the virus over the course of two years. Besides causing cancer, HPV is also responsible for genital warts, and some cancers of the penis, anus, vulva, and throat. The good news is that vaccination against HPV and screening programs with pap smears can help decrease the risk of cervical cancer in women.
A pap smear can find the cell changes to the cervix caused by HPV. During your pap smear your provider can conduct and HPV test to help them to know if you are at a high risk for cervical cancer. There is no treatment for HPV, however, providers have options for treating the diseases HPV may cause.
HPV is transmitted when infected genitals come into contact with other susceptible areas. Condoms only protect the skin they cover and transmission is still highly probable. The incubation period of HPV can be weeks, months, or years after exposure.
As of today, the CDC recommends that all boys and girls receive the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12. When the vaccine is taken in pre-teen years it produces a stronger immune response. A three series vaccine is available for both men and women up to age 45. In countries such as Australia where a high percentage of people are receiving the vaccine, the rates of cervical cancer continue to drop significantly.
Talk to your primary care provider to find out more about HPV, cervical cancer, and preventative measures.
Dr. Rebecca Pfaff, FPOB
Disclaimer: This Column is not intended as a diagnosis or recommended treatment of a specific condition. Answers are not a replacement for an individual medical evaluation. Individual health concerns should be evaluated by a licensed clinician.