Each day in the United States, 30 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 11 women die from it. Preventive measures and early detection, however, can save lives.
To promote education, early screening and treatment, the United States Congress has named January as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Throughout this time, women are encouraged to openly discuss their own experiences with the disease, highlight recent advances and research in cervical cancer and also mention success stories from local or regional cancer centers.
Such communication can help spread the word about cervical cancer, remove the lingering stigma many patients struggle with and help women win the battle against this disease.
About Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer forms in tissues of the cervix, which is located at the bottom of the uterus. This is usually a slow-growing cancer that rarely causes any symptoms. As a result, normal screenings performed by a gynecologist are the only means of detection.
Unlike many other cancers, cervical cancer is not considered to be passed genetically through family members. Instead, this is generally caused by certain strains of a virus known as human papillomavirus (HPV). This is a sexually transmitted disease that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the most common of all sexually transmitted infections. More than 40 different strains of HPV can infect the genitals of both males and females. Most people who have the disease are not even aware.
In 90 percent of all cases, the body’s immune system naturally clears HPV within two years. Sometimes, however, the virus persists, and a person may develop genital warts, warts in the throat or cervical cancer. Less common cancers also associated with HPV include those of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, head and neck. The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as those strains that cause cancer. Unfortunately, no method exists for detecting which patients with HPV will go on to develop cancer or other health problems.
When a woman is infected with certain types of HPV, and the virus does not go away on its own, abnormal cervical cells may develop. These occur in the lining of the cervix and have a changed appearance from normal cells. The more severe the cervical abnormality, the more likely that cervical cancer may develop. If left untreated, these abnormal cells may evolve into pre-cancer cells and, later, cervical cancer.
The Importance of Awareness
With early detection, an abnormal area of cells can be stopped before cervical cancer develops. Doctors use a pap test to detect suspicious changes in the cervix. Once a sample of cervical cells is taken, it is then tested. These steps occur seamlessly during a pelvic exam, which is why all women should schedule annual appointments.
Health officials also hope to eliminate the likelihood that women will continue to develop cervical cancer. Through increased awareness for the disease, women can be educated of the dangers posed by HPV and cervical cancer.
In many cases, cervical cancer can be prevented simply by making healthy lifestyle choices. The decision to abstain from or practice safe sex, for example, is one of the foremost ways to stop HPV and cervical cancer. Males and females alike can also limit their number of sex partners and choose a partner who has had no or few previous partners. However, even those individuals with only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV. This is because it is not always possible to determine if a partner is currently infected. Safe sex practices, therefore, are the most valuable choices.
The National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) recommends that people who want to get involved with Cervical Cancer Awareness Month start to make contact with local media sources and schools. Specifically, NCCC cervical cancer and HPV press releases can be distributed to state and local media. Local newspapers and magazines can also be asked to place one of the NCCC’s public service announcements in print. Such information can be obtained from the NCCC website.
These steps, in addition to annual pelvic exams and open discussions regarding cervical cancer, can help to save lives.