Cervical cancer is still a prevalent problem in the United States, and is a significant problem in developing countries. In the U.S., approximately 12,170 new cases and 4,220 deaths were attributed to cervical cancer in 2012, according to the American Cancer Society. But not for long. You can change this and eliminate cervical cancer completely!
More than 90 percent of cervical cancers are caused by a sexually transmitted virus known as HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). Some 6.2 million Americans are infected with HPV annually. A majority of these infections resolve, but a small percent persist to develop precancerous cervical lesions, and eventually cervical cancer.
Currently there is a vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration- to prevent HPV infections. Recommendations by the American Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) are to administer the first vaccine to girls between ages 11 to 12, prior to exposure to HPV, and to complete the vaccine series by the ages of 13 to 18. The vaccine may be given up to the age of 26. Unfortunately, only one-third of U.S. girls complete the vaccination course. Speak with your child’s pediatrician to learn more about this prevention aspect.
Screening Pap smears are recommended, even in girls who have completed the vaccination process. Currently, screening starts at the age of 21, with pap smears every three years until 29. At 30 years and older screening is recommended once every five years in combination with HPV testing.
For women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer on Pap smear alone the cure rate approaches 100 percent. Unfortunately, 60 to 80 percent of women diagnosed with cervical cancer have not had a pap smear in the last five years.
There have been dramatic advances in the treatment of cervical cancer including minimally invasive robotic surgery for early stages, fertility sparing surgery in young women desirous of childbearing, new radiation therapy modalities that minimize side effects, and targeted chemotherapies that are cancer specific.
With the participation of parents, pediatricians and primary care providers nationwide, we will move closer to eliminating this cancer completely. Let us work together to nip this cancer in its bud, through vaccination of our girls (and boys where approved) and proper screening.
Mira Hellmann, MD, is a gynecologic oncologist at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey, and an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.