Women: One type of cancer you have the power to prevent

(BPT) – The type of cancer that used to be the leading cause of cancer death among American women is now virtually 100 percent preventable, thanks to advances in screening techniques. Each year, nearly 12,000 women receive a cervical cancer diagnosis and more than 4,200 will die from cervical cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Advanced screening methods, improved understanding of the causes and risk factors of cervical cancer, and the availability of vaccination have the potential to reduce those numbers dramatically,” says Dr. Hope Cottrill, a board-certified gynecologic oncologist at Baptist Health in Lexington, Kentucky, and a diplomate of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “We now know that HPV (human papillomavirus) causes about 99 percent of all cervical cancer. Vaccination against HPV and screening tests that can detect the presence of the strains most commonly linked to cancer can help more women significantly reduce  their risk of developing cervical cancer.”

Understanding risks

HPV is the most common type of sexually transmitted infection and is so prevalent that virtually everyone who’s sexually active will get at least one type of it at some point, the CDC says. While most people who get HPV will recover from it without any long-term health effects, in other people the virus can cause some types of cancer — including cervical cancer in women.

In order to detect early signs of cervical cancer, your doctor probably administers a Pap test every one to three years. Pap tests can detect changes in the cervix that may develop into cancer. HPV testing can detect the presence of the types of HPV most commonly associated with cancer, especially HPV 16 and HPV 18, which are responsible for about 70 percent of all cervical cancers.

A study of 47,000 American women found that one in 10 women who tested positive for HPV 16 or HPV 18 with this test had evidence of cervical pre-cancer, even though their Pap test results were normal. In addition to giving you a negative or positive result for the presence of high-risk HPV, this test specifically tells you if you have HPV 16 or HPV 18, the two highest-risk types. The information can help you and your doctor make informed decisions about your next steps for cervical cancer prevention.

“Current medical guidelines recommend that all women 21 to 29 years old get a Pap test, and women 30 to 65 get a combination of a Pap test and HPV testing,” Cottrill says. “However, Pap tests alone fail to detect 50 percent of pre-cancers, and cervical cancer rates climb drastically for women in the 25-35 age range before leveling off in older age groups.”

What you can do

You may be able to do little, personally, to affect your risk of other types of cancer, such as breast cancer, but you can take action to significantly reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer one day.

One step you can take is to get vaccinated against HPV. The CDC recommends that girls age 11 through 26 and boys age 11 through 21 receive the vaccine. If you haven’t been vaccinated, and fall into that age range, talk to your doctor about the vaccine.

However, because most HPV vaccinations only protect against the two most common types, even if you’ve been vaccinated, you still need to get regular preventive screenings for cervical cancer. Talk to your doctor about getting tested for HPV. The cobas HPV Test from Roche is the first and only FDA-approved HPV test that can be used with or without a Pap test in women 25 and older.

Talk to your doctor to learn more about HPV testing or visit www.hpv16and18.com.