Nearly 13,000 American women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2011, and more than 4,000 died from an advanced form of the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.
In recognition of National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month this month, experts urging women to get screened, regularly, for cervical cancer.
Regular Pap tests, which detect significant abnormal cell changes that may arise before cancer develops, reduce deaths from cervical cancer.
Women who have never been screened or who have not been screened in the past five years face a greater risk of developing invasive cervical cancer.
Most medical experts agree women age 21 (or younger, if they are sexually active) to about 70 should be screened every two to three years.
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.
Despite the effectiveness of Pap tests in preventing deaths, the most recent National Cancer Institute statistics (2005) indicate that more than 20 percent of women aged 18 and older had not had a Pap test within the past three years.
According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, while routine administration of Pap tests is the best method to detect cervical cancer at an early stage, vaccines have the potential to protect women from the disease by targeting cancer-causing types of human papillomavirus (HPV).
The primary cause of cervical cancer is the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States.
In June 2006, the FDA approved a vaccine that prevents against two strains of HPV that is responsible for 70 percent of all cervical cancers.
The FDA approved a similar vaccine in October 2009. The vaccines are recommended for females age 9-26.
The Michigan Cancer Consortium recommends regular Pap testing and speculum exams for women beginning at age 21 or three years after the onset of sexual activity, whichever occurs first.
Women under age 40 may obtain Pap testing through their health care provider, at Family Planning clinics available through local health departments or at Planned Parenthood of Michigan affiliates located around the state.
Free cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services are available through the Michigan Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program (BCCCP), which is administered locally by the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department.
Women diagnosed with cervical cancer or pre-cancerous conditions through the BCCCP may apply for Medicaid to pay for their needed treatment.
HPV is really a group of more than 100 related viruses that can infect cells on the surface of the skin. Some types of HPV cause genital warts.
Other types cause cancer of the cervix. The kinds that cause cancer are called "high-risk" HPVs.
HPV is passed from one person to another by skin-to-skin contact such as vaginal, anal, or oral sex. But sex isn't the only way to spread HPV from one person to person. All that is needed is for there to be skin-to-skin contact with an area of the body infected with HPV.
Having unprotected sex, especially at a young age, makes HPV infection more likely. Also, women who have many sex partners (or who have sex with men who have had many partners) have a greater chance of getting HPV.
Many women may have HPV, but very few of these women will ever get cervical cancer.
In most cases the body fights off the virus, and the infection goes away without any treatment.
But in some women, the infection lasts and can cause cervical cancer.
HPV is mainly found in young women and is less common in women over 30.
Condoms may help protect against HPV when they are used correctly. But HPV can still be passed from one person to another by skin-to-skin contact with an HPV-infected area of the body that is not covered by a condom. Still, it is important to use condoms because they can help protect against AIDS and other sexual diseases, too.
Other risk factors
- Smoking: Women who smoke are about twice as likely to get cervical cancer as those who don't.
- HIV infection: HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS - it is not the same as HPV. It can also be a risk factor for cancer of the cervix. Having HIV seems to make a woman's immune system less able to fight both HPV and early cancers.
- Chlamydia infection: This is a common kind of bacteria that can infect women's sex organs. It is spread during sex. A woman may not know that she is infected at all unless she is tested for chlamydia when she gets her pelvic exam.
- Diet: What you eat can play a part as well. Diets low in fruits and vegetables are linked to an increased risk of cervical cancer. Also, women who are overweight are at a higher risk.
- Birth control pills: Long-term use of birth control pills increases the risk of this cancer. Research suggests that the risk of cervical cancer goes up the longer a woman takes "the pill," but the risk goes back down again after she stops.
- Having many pregnancies: Woman who have had 3 or more full-term pregnancies have an increased risk of this cancer.
- Young age at the time of first full-term pregnancy: Women who were younger than 17 years when they had their first full-term pregnancy are almost two times more likely to get cervical cancer later in life than women who waited to get pregnant until they were 25 years or older.
- Low income: Poor women are at greater risk for cancer of the cervix. This may be because they cannot afford good health care, such as regular Pap tests.
- DES (diethylstilbestrol): DES is a hormone drug that was used between 1940 and 1971 for some women who were in danger of miscarriages. The daughters of women who took this drug while they were pregnant with them have a slightly higher risk of cancer of the vagina and cervix.
- Family history: Cervical cancer may run in some families. If your mother or sister had cervical cancer, your chances of getting the disease are 2 to 3 times higher than if no one in the family had it.