The cervix (neck of the uterus), the lower part of the uterus or womb; is what expands during childbirth when a baby is born, after it has grown in the highest part of the matrix. Two types of cells lining the uterus, where these two types of cells are joined in the cervix is where the majority of cervical cancers form. This area is where the samples used for the screening test, which is known as the Pap smear or Pap test is usually obtained from. Today we know much of this disease, its cause, prevention, early diagnosis and treatment. Most cases of cervical cancer are due to HPV.
How common is cervical cancer and HPV?
In the US and Puerto Rico, it is estimated that every minute a woman is diagnosed with a pre-cancerous (500,000 annual cases) HPV. Based on statistics from 2009, it is estimated that a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer (11,270 new cases of cervical cancer) and every two hours a woman dies from cervical (4,070 deaths) Cancer. This disease is caused by the group of viruses we know as the Human Papillomavirus (HPV).
The human papillomavirus (HPV) are common viruses that can affect the genital tract, throat, mouth and neck. There are over 100 types of HPV. Most are harmless, but about 15 are considered oncogenic types – that cause cancer. HPV is acquired by intimate contact, skin to skin, with an infected partner. They are classified as low risk or high risk. The low-risk HPV can cause genital warts. In women, high-risk HPV can lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, mouth, and throat.
Of the HPV-associated cancers, almost 89% affects the cervix and as 12% affect other parts of the body. HPV is very common, it is estimated that 1 in 5 women 14-19 years are currently or have been previously infected with high-risk HPV and this rises to 1 in 3 women from ages 20-24 years. It is known that for there to be development of cervical cancer there must have been prior infection with one of these carcinogenic HPV types.
Although some people develop genital warts from HPV infection, infection with carcinogenic HPV has no symptoms. In women, the detection is done by specific DNA tests that are caught with a Papanicolaou or pap test.
Guidelines for early detection of HPV are:
- Every woman should have a “pap test” performed beginning at 21 years or 3 years after initiating sexual activity.
- It is very important that you are screened between every one to three years, depending on their risk factors. Women after 65 without risk factors may stop having the pap test screening, as well as women who have had their cervix removed and have NO risk factors.
- For more advice on when to begin visits to the gynecologist you can press here.
Risk factors for cervical cancer include:
- HPV infection (most important risk factor)
- Health states where the immune system of the body is decreased. (like Influenza or Dengue)
- Infection with chlamydia.
- Being overweight and having poor nutrition.
- Family history of cervical cancer.
- Beginning sexual activity early in life, having multiple sexual partners, or that their partner had multiple sexual partners.
- Not having appropriate access to health services.
What can I can do to reduce the risk of cervical cancer?
The correct use of latex condoms greatly reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of catching or spreading HPV. Vaccination against cervical cancer, which is recommended for all women of 9-26 years can protect against several types of HPV, including HPV that are most commonly associated with cancer in women. Women who are vaccinated should still continue to have the Pap test screening regularly or as recommended by your gynecologist.
What happens if I am already diagnosed with HPV?
In women who already have been diagnosed infection with a carcinogenic HPV strain we would have to follow the development closely to make sure it doesn’t develop into cancer. The good news is that most of these infections will not need any intervention. Most of these infections heal on their own, with the help of your immune system, and do not develop into cancer. In some women, HPV infection are not resolved, and persist, these women are at a higher risk of cancer. If it does develop into a precancerous lesion, this can be treated by a variety of procedures that takes place in our office.
Cervical cancer is treated with surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, or a combination of these depending on how early you were diagnosed, that’s why it’s so important to have Pap test performed regularly so we can catch it in the early phase of development. The goal is prevention, with the only cancer prevention vaccination in the market presently, screening in their pre-cancerous stages or at its earliest state before it spread throughout your whole body and treatment is way more difficult.