Cervical Health Awareness Month

Cervical cancer affects approximately 13,000 women in the United States each year, and more than 4,000 of women will die, reports the National Cervical Cancer Coalition.

Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer for women worldwide, but because it develops over time, it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer.

The United States Congress has designated January as Cervical Health Awareness Month.

Experts urging women to get screened, regularly, for cervical cancer.

In most cases, cervical cancer can be prevented through early detection and treatment of abnormal cell changes that occur in the cervix years before cervical cancer develops.

These cell changes are caused by human papillomavirus, commonly known as HPV, National Cervical Cancer Coalition officials said.

The traditional test for early detection has been the Pap test. Now tests for HPV are available that can be used with the Pap test in women starting at 30 years of age and in women of any age when the Pap test alone has found slightly abnormal cell changes.

Women should seek expert medical advice about when they should begin screening, how often they should be screened, and when they can discontinue cervical screenings, especially if they are at higher than average risk due to factors such as HIV infection.

There are more than 100 different types of HPV. Some types of genital HPV may cause genital warts, while other types of genital HPV are linked to abnormal cell changes on the cervix (detected through Pap tests) that can lead to cervical cancer, the National Cervical Cancer Coalition said.

However, this cancer can almost always be prevented through regular screening and, if needed, treatment of abnormal cell changes.

Approximately 6 million new cases of sexually transmitted HPV occur in the U.S. each year, with at least 20 million people estimated to be currently infected. Most people with HPV, though, do not know that they are infected.

National Cervical Cancer Coalition Fast Facts:

– HPV can infect anyone who has ever had a sexual encounter, even without going “all the way.”

– HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact, not through an exchange of bodily fluid.

– In most cases, the virus is harmless and most people have no symptoms. The body clears most HPV infections naturally.

– HPV can be contracted from one partner, remain dormant, and then later be unknowingly transmitted to another sexual partner, including a spouse.

– Though usually harmless, some high-risk types cause cervical cell changes that, if not detected in time, can turn into cancer. The majority of women with an HPV infection will not develop cervical cancer, but regular Pap tests are important.

– Cervical cancer most commonly takes 10 years to 20 years or more to develop; women who are no longer sexually active should still have Pap tests.

– The best way to screen for cervical cancer is a Pap test, which may be done alone or, for women age 30 and older, in combination with an HPV DNA test.

– HPV infections in women over 30 are less likely to be cleared naturally, so an HPV test can be helpful in letting health care providers know which women are at greatest risk of cervical cancer.

– Regular Pap tests, supplemented by appropriate HPV testing, will detect virtually all pre-cancerous changes and cervical cancers.

– Cervical cancer is completely preventable if precancerous cell changes are detected and treated early.

Locally, the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department has announced that the income eligibility guidelines for the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program (BCCCP) have increased.

For example, a woman in a family of four with a yearly gross income of $58,875 may qualify for a free breast and cervical cancer screening at the Health Department.

In addition, she must be a Michigan resident between the ages of 40-64 years and un-insured or under-insured.

This exam would include a clinical breast exam, pelvic exam, pap (if indicated) and mammogram.

In the event cancer is diagnosed this person may qualify for the Medicaid Treatment Act which would provide full Medicaid benefits for the duration of the cancer treatment.

“Routine screening is the most important factor in cervical and breast cancer diagnosis” said Barbara Peterson, the Health Department’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program Coordinator.

The BCCCP program provides women with access to life-saving cancer screening and treatment services.

Among Michigan women, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths and is the most frequently diagnosed cancer.

Early detection is the key to survival. With regular screening, breast cancer is more likely to be detected at an earlier stage, when it is most treatable. The five-year survival rate among women whose breast cancer has not spread beyond the breast at the time of diagnosis is 98.6 percent.

No one should die from cervical cancer.

Experts believe that virtually all cervical cancer deaths could potentially be prevented by a combination of safe sex practices, routine Pap tests, and appropriate follow-up of abnormal screening results.

Cervical cancer can be detected early by regular Pap tests; the “Pap test” is a specific test for cervical cancer and is not necessarily the same as a pelvic exam, the Health Department said.

Most cervical cancers develop over a relatively long period of time. During this time, abnormal tissue can be detected easily by a Pap test, and then removed by a health care provider.

“This program is very important to our BCCCP clients,” said Peterson. “Often, the annual exam received at the Health Department is the only visit uninsured women make to a health care provider.”

Through this program, women who have breast and cervical cancer will be identified at earlier stages of these diseases, when treatment is less expensive and the survival rate is more favorable.

“Preventing and identifying disease early is what we are all about,” Peterson said. “We say, ‘Do it for yourself, do it for your family.’

For more information or an appointment, call the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department at 779-7237 or 265-4166.