Cervical cancer is highly preventable because screening tests and vaccines to prevent papillomavirus (HPV), the main cause of cervical cancer, are available, Janette Wheat, Ph.D, said.
Wheat is a Cooperative Extension Program specialist and associate professor of human development and family studies at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
“Half of cervical cancers occur in women rarely or never screened for cancer, and another 10 percent to 20 percent occur in women who were screened but did not receive adequate follow-up care,” according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Yet, when cervical cancer is found early, it is highly treatable with long survival rates and a good quality of life, Wheat said in a news release.
Regular cervical cancer screenings help prevent cancer in women aged 21-65, according to the CDC. Papanicolaou (PaP) tests detect precancers, which are cell changes on the cervix that might become cancerous if not treated. The CDC recommends that women get Pap tests beginning at age 21 and every three years thereafter. Women age 30 or older, may also have an HPV test along with a Pap test. If both are normal, the CDC suggests that additional testing is not needed for five years.
Specific recommendations from three major organizations that issue guidelines on cervical cancer screening are available at https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/pdf/guidelines.pdf.
Cervical cancer vaccines are available to prevent HPV infection. They offer the greatest health benefit to persons who receive all three doses before exposure to HPV through sexual activity, reported the CDC this year. As a result, routine HPV vaccinations are recommended for girls and boys at age 11 or 12.
The CDC recommends vaccination for females through age 26 and for males through age 21 who have not been vaccinated. More information on HPV vaccines is available at http://www.cdc.gov/hpv/vaccine.html.
Ideally, a child should get the first dose of the HPV vaccine at age 11-12 years and the second dose six to 12 months after the first one. It can be given as early as age 9, waiting until they are older may require three doses, according to the news release.
“Even if children were not vaccinated at age 11 or 12, it is not too late to be vaccinated against cervical cancer,” Wheat said. “Teens and young adults should be vaccinated, too. HPV vaccination is recommended for everyone through age 26.”
The CDC does not recommend vaccination for everyone older than age 26. Some adults, ages 27 to 45, who are not vaccinated may decide to be vaccinated after talking with their doctor about their risk for new HPV infections, but at this age range vaccination provides fewer benefits as more people have already been exposed, according to the release.
“HPV infections and cervical precancers have dropped significantly since the vaccine has been in use, according to the latest CDC research,” Wheat said.
Among teen girls, infections with HPV types that cause cancers and genital warts have dropped 86 percent. Among young adult women, infections have dropped 71 percent; and among vaccinated women, the percentage of cervical precancers has dropped by 40 percent, according to the release.
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