If you have cervical cancer and need help LIVESTRONG is here for you! Please visit www.livestrong.org/wecanhelp for info about our emotional and practical support services. Groups like Tamika and Friends as well as The National Cervical Cancer Coalition offer great info on cervical cancer and HPV risks. Check them out!
All women are at risk for cervical cancer and almost all (70%) of cervical cancers are caused by the Human Papaloma Virus (HPV). So when we talk about lowering your cervical cancer risk we must address the sexually transmitted disease, HPV. HPV itself is not cancer, but it can cause cell changes that turn into cancer. Here are three ways to lower your risk for cervical cancer:
1) Get a PAP Test:
PAP Tests (PAP smears) are recommended for women starting at age 21 to test for abnormal cervical cells. Women aged 21 to 29, should have a Pap test every 3 years. Women ages 30-65, the preferred way to screen is with a Pap test combined with an HPV test every 5 years. Please note that if you have had cancer before or are considered higher risk you and your doctor should talk about what screening regiment is best for you.
It is estimated that 3 million women a year will receive an abnormal PAP test, yet only 10,000 of these will be cervical cancer. If you cannot afford to get a pap smear you can contact LIVESTRONG Cancer Navigation Center for info on low-cost or free screenings.
2) Get Pre-Cancerous Cells Treated
If an abnormal area is seen, your doctor can remove it. Common treatment options include the loop electrosurgical procedure (LEEP or LLETZ procedure), a cold knife cone biopsy and destroying the abnormal cells with cryosurgery or laser surgery.
Abnormal cells that are not removed can turn into cervical cancer although it can take 10 to 15 years (or more) for cells to change from normal to abnormal, and then into cancer. Abnormal cells are sometimes called “pre-cancer” because they are not normal, but they are not yet cancer.
3) Get the HPV Vaccine
The American Cancer Society recommends that girls ages 11 to 12 years old receive the vaccine; however, some studies that suggest you can give the HPV vaccine up to age 26. Boys and girls can both be vaccinated as both men and women can carry and spread HPV. There are over 100 known types of HPV, yet only a few that can cause cancer. The high-risk types include HPV 16, HPV 18, HPV 31, HPV 33, and HPV 45, as well as some others. About two-thirds of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV 16 and 18.
So far, a vaccine that protects against HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18 (Gardasil) and one that protects against types 16 and 18 (Cervarix) have been studied and approved for use in this country by the FDA. Both vaccines require a series of 3 injections over a 6-month period. If you do not have insurance, contact LIVESTRONG Cancer Navigation Center for info on how to find free or low-cost vaccinations near you.