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Health Team

Cervical cancer cases higher than previously thought despite being preventable

Posted January 31

At 38 years old, sportscaster Erin Andrews recently revealed she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Fortunately, it was caught early and her prognosis is good after two surgeries, but Andrews' diagnosis highlights a bigger problem in the United States.

A recent study in the Journal Cancer showed cervical cancer deaths are much higher than previously thought.

Doctors know that black women are dying at a higher rate than white women, due to lack of access or limited access to cervical cancer screenings. For many of those who die from a preventable disease like cervical cancer, the reasons are the lack of access to medical care and no health insurance.

Cervical cancer occurs in the cells of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus.

The human papillomavirus—also called HPV—causes 99 percent of these cancers.

Early-stage cervical cancer generally produces no symptoms. More advanced cases can cause vaginal bleeding, especially after sexual intercourse, or there may be pelvic pain.

Risk factors include multiple sexual partners, early sexual activity, a weakened immune system and smoking.

If cancer is suspected, a gynecologist would do a thorough exam, which could include a tissue biopsy and imaging studies to see if the cancer has spread beyond the cervix.

If cancer is diagnosed, in some cases, the cervix itself can be surgically removed, preserving the possibility of a future pregnancy. Otherwise, a hysterectomy might be recommended.

Radiation and chemotherapy can also be used.

It is imperative that kids be vaccinated with the HPV vaccine as a prevention tool, preferably before they are sexually active.

All kids 11 to 12 years old should get two shots of HPV vaccine, six months apart. Three doses of the vaccine are recommended for those ages 15 to 26.

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends cervical cancer screening in women starting at age 21 all the way to 65 year of age.

That screening is done every three years with a pap smear, or for women ages 30 to 65 who want to lengthen the screening interval, a combination of pap smear and HPV testing every five years is recommended.

It is said that most cervical cancers are found in women who have not followed the guidelines for screening: 70 percent of cervical cancers are found in women who did not get scheduled pap smears or had an abnormal pap smear and did not follow-up with their doctor.

More than 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in this country every year; more than 4000 die of this disease, which is preventable and treatable.

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