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Cervical Cancer Prevention

Dr. Dana Benden, Board-Certified Obstetrician/Gynecologist, discusses cervical health in this segment of Wellness Minute.

Each year in the U.S., nearly 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and more than 4,000 die as a result.

Below are four things to know about cervical cancer, pap tests and the human papillomavirus (HPV), according to Dr. Dana Benden, OB/GYN, the National Cervical Cancer Coalition and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Benden further discusses the importance of vaccination and screening in the video below.

1. All women are at risk for cervical cancer. It occurs most often in women over age 30. Each year in the U.S. nearly 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and more than 4,000 die as a result.

2. HPV is common. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer. Most sexually active individuals have HPV at some point. At any time, there are approximately 79 million people in the U.S. with HPV.

3. Cervical cancer is the easiest gynecologic cancer to prevent with regular screening tests and follow-up. There are two tests that can either help prevent cervical cancer or find it early: a Pap test and a HPV test. A Pap test looks for precancers and cell changes on the cervix. HPV tests find the virus and help healthcare providers know which women are at the highest risk for cervical cancer. A Pap/HPV co-test is recommended for women 30 and over.

4. It can take weeks, months, or years after exposure to HPV before symptoms develop or the virus is detected. This is why it is usually impossible to determine when or from whom HPV may have been contracted.

Vaccination

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. Nearly all sexually active people are infected with HPV at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But vaccination can help prevent HPV and the cases of cancer, genital warts and other health problems it can cause. To work best, the vaccine must be given in two or three doses over a six-month period. It should also be given long before a young person is sexually active, according to CDC. The CDC recommends it for all girls and boys ages 11 or 12.

In the United States, Gardasil 9 is the available vaccine to protect against HPV, including cervical and anal cancer, and genital warts. It targets HPV types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58.

The vaccine is very safe. Testing has revealed no serious side effects, according to the NIH. The most common reactions, such as soreness or swelling at the injection site, are temporary.

Although the vaccine can prevent future HPV infections, it can't eliminate an existing HPV infection. And it is possible for someone to become infected with HPV the very first time he or she is sexually active, according to CDC. (Remember, most people who have HPV don't have symptoms.)

Though the vaccine is routinely given at ages 11 or 12, it can be safely given to children as young as 9, according to the FDA.

It also can be safely given through age 45. If your child needs catch-up vaccinations, speak to his or her healthcare provider.

Screening

It's very important for women to have regular pap testing and HPV testing. Screening can detect pre-cancerous changes on the cervix that might happen before cervix cancer and treat those changes before they progress to cervix cancer.

Screening recommendations include:

Women ages 21 - 24 - Every 3 years
Pap only testing

Women ages 30 - 65 - Every 5 years
Pap test with HPV screening

Women age 25 - 29 - Every 3 years
Pap testing (sometimes with HPV)

HPV is common. We don't know why certain women can clear HPV from their system. We do know that if they test positive, it's important to monitor changes to make sure the virus does get cleared and catch the changes before they progress into cancer.

Take a step toward cervical cancer prevention! Schedule your well woman appointment with pap test or make an appointment for your child to get vaccinated, contact the Crossing Rivers Health Clinic at 608.357.2500 or click here to make an appointment. To make an appointment with Dr. Dana Benden, call Crossing Rivers Health Center for Specialty Care at 608.357.2525 or click here.


About Dr. Dana Benden

As a courtesy member of the Crossing Rivers Health Medical Staff, Dana Benden, MD, is a Gundersen Health System provider who delivers Gynecologic services at the Crossing Rivers Health Center for Specialty Care. Dr. Benden also performs Gynecologic surgeries in the Surgical Department at Crossing Rivers Health.

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