Many of us might hear the word “cancer” and automatically think that such a diagnosis would be a death sentence. This could be based on things we’ve heard, images we have seen portrayed in the media, or perhaps a personal experience – a friend or relative who has been affected by this “c” word. The truth is it greatly depends on the type of cancer…how early it is diagnosed…and whether or not a person has access to treatment.
In the US, January is #CervicalHealthMonth. Today we are talking it about it here because cervical cancer is an international issue and I’m sharing on World Moms Blog because it is an important topic to me, too. More than half a million women around the world are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and over half of them die from the disease. The majority of these cases and deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.(1)
Why is this important? Because no woman should die of cervical cancer. It is highly preventable if you get the HPV vaccine, have regular screening tests, and appropriate follow-up care. That being said, we know that there are disparities in wealth and access to vaccination and screening services.
Cervical cancer is a slow-growing disease and we now know that almost all cases are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. More specifically, two high-risk types of HPV, types 16 and 18, cause about 70% of all cervical cancer cases.(2) Women around the world can be exposed to HPV once they become sexually active, but it is women with little or no access to screening and vaccination who will be most affected by persistent HPV infection which can lead to cervical cancer. If investments in cervical cancer prevention aren’t made now, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there will be about 443,000 deaths from cervical cancer per year by 2030 – that’s a 67% increase, and it will be more than double the estimated deaths from pregnancy related complications.(3)
So what can we do?
Well, for starters, talk to your healthcare provider about cervical cancer screening. In the US, it is recommended that women between the ages of 21 and 65 have a Pap smear every three years. Women between the ages of 30 and 65 can lengthen their screening interval to every five years if they have a Pap smear in combination with an HPV test.(4) Talk to your provider to see what is right for you.
Note that many low-resource countries probably don’t recommend screening as often as it is done in the US, but that doesn’t mean that it is not important. Through research, alternatives to Pap tests have been found. These are often cheaper and easier to administer in low-resource settings. For example, vaginal self-sampling by women, visual screening with acetic acid (VIA) by health personnel, and HPV DNA testing.(3)
Vaccines are also an important tool for cervical cancer prevention. The WHO recommends HPV vaccine as a cervical cancer control strategy in countries where it is feasible, cost-effective, and can be delivered to adolescent girls effectively. In the US, recommendations are for all kids (males and females) to get the three-dose HPV vaccine around the age of 11 or 12. Females can receive the vaccine through age 26 and males can get vaccinated through age 21.(5) If you have children or loved ones between the ages of 11 and 21, talk to a healthcare provider about HPV vaccination. Of note, the GAVI Alliance has been subsidizing the HPV vaccine in low-resource countries.(6)
And finally…spread the word! Encourage your friends and loved ones to get screened and to learn more about vaccination. For more information on cervical cancer, visit the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, or Cervical Cancer Action. To learn more about Cervical Health Awareness Month, visit the National Cervical Cancer Coalition.
If my post can help save the life of even just one woman. This is my hope. And this is my motivation for sharing this information at with our World Moms Blog readers!
How good are you about keeping up with your women’s check-ups? In what ways can you help spread the word to other women in your life?
This has been an original post to World Moms Blog by Eva Fannon.
“Women of the World” photo credit to Angela Sevin. This picture has a creative commons attribute license.
- National Cancer Institute. Preventing Cervical Cancer: The Development of HPV Vaccines.
- National Cancer Institute. HPV and Cancer.
- Cervical Cancer Action. Progress in Cervical Cancer Prevention: The CCA Report Card 2015.
- U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Cervical Cancer Screening Recommendation Summary.
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. HPV Vaccines: Vaccinating Your Preteen or Teen.
- Gavi The Vaccine Alliance. Human papillomavirus vaccine support.