Cervical cancer does not discriminate. Any woman regardless of race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, or geographic area is at risk for cervical cancer, with Louisiana cervical cancer rates and deaths higher than the national average (5th in cervical cancer deaths.) According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 90% of cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a very common virus shown to not only cause cervical cancer, but certain other cancers and genital warts. The CDC estimates 79 million people in the United States are infected with HPV, with approximately 14 million becoming infected each year and nearly 27,000 U.S. cancers resulting from it. Overall, the National Cancer Institute says HPV causes approximately five percent of all cancers worldwide.
Despite the prevalence of HPV, there is a way to prevent HPV-associated diseases: Make sure to vaccinate adolescents against HPV. The HPV vaccine is available for both males and females ages 9-26; however, it is recommended that adolescents get vaccinated at ages 11-12.
HPV vaccination is cancer prevention
The HPV vaccine has been shown to be effective in preventing cervical cancer, other HPV-associated cancers and genital warts. Despite evidence that HPV immunization is effective in reducing infection, three-dose completion rates remain below the Healthy People 2020 recommendation of 80%, suggesting that many young persons in the United States remain unprotected. The current recommendation is that adolescents who begin the vaccination series before age 15 only need two doses. Parents should be sure to talk to their child’s primary care provider about HPV vaccination.
Cervical cancer screening
Current guidelines recommend women begin getting Pap tests at age 21. The Pap test involves collecting cells from the cervix to be sent to the lab for testing. If the results are normal, your physician may recommend getting a Pap test every three years up to age 65. In addition to the Pap test, your physician can order an HPV test. This co-testing is recommended for women ages 30-65. The HPV test checks for the human papillomavirus that can cause cell changes in the cervix.
HPV vaccination and cervical cancer screenings have been shown to effectively prevent cervical cancer. They are a one-two punch in knocking out cervical cancer.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. If you haven’t had a Pap test, please schedule one today. Also encourage the women in your life to schedule their well-woman visit. Early detection is important. If you aren’t sure where to go, and you qualify for no-cost cervical cancer screenings, we have providers across the state. Go to www.lbchp.org/screening-locations to find a convenient location or call 1-888-599-1073 for assistance. Also talk to your child’s physician about the HPV vaccine.
- Courtney Wheeler, HPV Coordinator