Cervical cancer is a serious health risk. One of the five primary types of cancer that affect a woman’s reproductive organs, cervical cancer is a “silent killer” that often shows no symptoms until after the disease has spread. The American Cancer Society estimated that in 2017, over 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer would be diagnosed in the United States alone, and over 4,000 women would die of the disease. Worldwide, the numbers are shockingly higher. Concerning for certain, but even more so when you consider that all women are at risk.
So why is Women’s Care Florida thinking positively about cervical cancer? Progress. Once a leading cause of cancer deaths in American women, cervical cancer has dropped significantly in rank to 14th. Over the last 40 years, associated death rates have dropped by more than 50%. Equally hopeful is the 91% five-year survival rate for patients who are diagnosed at an early stage. And as you’ll read later on, new research gives us even more reason to believe the situation will continue to improve.
Vaccines and early detection can help
Progress also tells us that we can help prevent the disease. We know the primary cause of cervical cancer is human papillomavirus (HPV). Vaccinations such as Gardasil and Cervarix help guard against HPV and its related diseases. Women’s Care Florida offers these vaccinations at each of our practice sites. The three-dose series is available to girls ages nine and older; information on the immunization can be found here.
Annual well-woman exams are another important weapon in the fight against cervical cancer. Pap smear and HPV tests are highly effective means of detecting cervical cancer as early as possible. During the exam, your Women’s Care Florida physician will talk with you to determine which, if any, screening tests you’ll need based on the current cervical cancer screening guidelines.
Reducing known risk factors
There are additional actions you can take to help minimize your risk of cervical cancer. If you smoke, it’s important you quit. The American Cancer Society states that women who smoke are about twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer. Smoking also weakens the immune system and lessens its ability to fight HPV. To keep your immune system in working order, be sure to stay at a healthy weight and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Women can also minimize their exposure to HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases by limiting their number of sexual partners and using condoms when having sex. And while oral contraceptives are an effective means of preventing pregnancy, long-term use of birth control pills can also increase your risk of getting cervical cancer.
One factor that actually lowers risk
And this leads us to the latest — and really hopeful — reason to stay positive: a recent report in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology suggests that women who use an intrauterine device (IUD) as a means of birth control may be 30% less likely to get cervical cancer than women who don’t. Researchers arrived at this potentially significant finding through a worldwide review of studies concerning thousands of women who use an IUD and observing their rates of cervical cancer.
Although there isn’t a clear understanding of why an IUD offers women additional protection against cervical cancer, further study may reveal an effective means of fighting this deadly disease. For now, IUDs are not recommended for this use, but Women’s Care Florida will keep a close eye on future developments. And we believe continued progress in the fight against cervical cancer is good reason to keep thinking positively.
To discuss how you can best protect yourself against cervical cancer, schedule your well-woman exam with a Women’s Care Florida physician.