Expert Health Articles

Cervical Cancer and HPV

Brianne Hottinger

Oncology Nurse Navigator at The Armes Family Cancer Care Center

January is Cervical Cancer awareness month. It is estimated that 12,820 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2018. The cervix is located in the lower part of the uterus. Cervical cancer is defined as cells in the cervix growing out of control. The two most common forms of cervical cancer are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma of the cervix.

There are multiple risk factors for cervical cancer. The most common risk factor is having the human papillomavirus (HPV). According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), HPV causes more than 90% of cervical cancers. Other risk factors include smoking, giving birth to three or more children and long-term birth control use.

If screenings are done at the appropriate time, cervical cancer is highly preventable. The American Cancer Society has developed a set of guidelines for screening and prevention of cervical cancer. Screening for cervical cancer should begin at age 21 for all women. This screening includes a Pap test every three years until the age of 29. Beginning at age 30 a co-test with Pap and HPV screening should be performed every five years until the age of 65. After age 65, as long as you have had a regular screening for the past 10 years and have not had any pre-cancerous lesions in the last 20 years, Pap testing can be discontinued. If you have been vaccinated against HPV you should still have your regular Pap testing.

Because of the high risk for cervical cancer surrounding HPV, getting vaccinated against HPV is also a strong preventative measure against cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends HPV vaccines start at age 11 for both girls and boys and can be given until the age of 26. The vaccine is given as a series of injections. HPV testing is not necessary before obtaining the vaccine. Side effects of the vaccine include, but are not limited to, redness and pain at the injection site, fever, dizziness and nausea. Recently there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the HPV vaccine. I would encourage anyone considering the vaccine for their children to speak to their primary care provider about the risks and benefits to being vaccinated. Currently, according to the American Cancer Society, no serious side effects have been reported and there have been no deaths associated with the HPV vaccine.

Cervical cancer is very preventable and, if caught early, highly treatable. The best way to protect yourself from cervical cancer is to have your regular pap screenings as ordered by your physician, and to get vaccinated against HPV. For more information, visit The American Cancer Society and Center for Disease Control websites at www.cancer.org and www.cdc.gov. The HPV vaccine is available at the local health department. As always, consult your doctor about any questions concerning cervical cancer or HPV so that you are able to make an informed decision about your health and cervical cancer prevention.