LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ)— Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, yet hundreds of Kentucky women still die from it each year. January is National Cervical Health Awareness Month and Saint Joseph Hospital and Saint Joseph East, both part of KentuckyOne Health, are working to educate Kentuckians on the importance of early detection and screening in the prevention of this deadly disease that kills approximately 4,000 women nationwide each year.
Major reductions in cervical cancer cases and deaths has been attributed to the discovery that the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the cause of almost all cases of cervical cancer. However, only a small proportion of women infected with HPV develop cervical cancer because the cancer results only from certain types of persistent HPV infection. Cervical cancer can usually be cured if it is found and treated in the early stages.
Thus, regular testing for HPV, a sexually transmitted infection, as well as administering the HPV vaccine, has proven extremely effective in the fight against a cancer that was one of the most common causes of cancer death among women several decades ago.
“Approximately 80 percent of women have, sometime in their lifetime, been exposed to HPV,” said Dr. Daniel Metzinger, a gynecological oncologist with UofL Physicians and the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, also part of KentuckyOne Health. “That’s how ubiquitous it is.”
Cervical cancer is a disease in which cancer cells develop in the tissues of the cervix. The cervix, the lower part of the uterus which protrudes into the vagina, connects the body of the uterus to the vagina. Together, cervical cancer screening and the HPV vaccine could prevent as many as 93 percent of all cervical cancers.
“For most women, the reason they develop cervical cancer is because they’re not being screened for it,” Metzinger said.
Cervical cancer is a slow-progressing cancer, and usually does not cause early symptoms, which is why screening is so important. Only in late stage cervical cancer do women experience symptoms such as irregular bleeding, bleeding or pain during sex or vaginal discharge.
Pap screenings are used to detect potentially cancerous cells in the cervix. Women should have a Pap screening at least every three years beginning at age 21. Women should consult their physicians on what time frame is right for them, based on factors such as family history and lifestyle changes.
An HPV test is also recommended for women over age 30 in order to identify high-risk types of HPV that are commonly found in cervical cancer. The Centers for Disease Control recommends the HPV vaccine, a highly effective vaccine first recommended in 2006, for girls and young women ages 11-26. Parents are encouraged to become educated about the vaccine and talk with their physicians about whether or not to have their child vaccinated.
Early invasive cervical cancer can be treated by either radical hysterectomy, bilateral pelvic lymph node dissection or radiation therapy. Minimally invasive options, such as robotic surgery, are available for treatment of early cervical cancer. Advanced cervical cancer is treated by chemoradiation. Survival rates for cervical cancer are dependent on the stage of the disease, tissue type and whether or not the cancer has spread into the lymph nodes.
“Receiving regular Pap screenings and the HPV test are the best way to protect women against cervical cancer, which is one of the most preventable cancers.” said Anthony Smith, MD, KentuckyOne Health Obstetrics and Gynecology. “If a pre-cancer is found, it can be treated and stop cervical cancer before it really starts. Talk to your health care provider about your risk and how often you should be screened.”