Cervical cancer is highly preventable through screening tests and the HPV vaccine.
(Courtesy photo)

It’s an alarming statistic: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S., and that approximately 4,000 women die of this preventable disease.

But there are ways by which women can protect their health and lower their chances of being diagnosed with cervical cancer, according to health experts.

“All women are at risk for cervical cancer,” said Dr. Lestina C. Price, chief of service, Obstetrics/Gynecology, with Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center. “It occurs most often in women over age 30, and long-lasting and untreated infection with certain types of HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer. The good news is that cervical cancer is highly preventable through screening tests and the HPV vaccine.”

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the leading cause of cervical cancer. In fact, more than 80% of women who are sexually active will contract HPV at some point in their life, studies show. The HPV vaccine is the top preventative measure that a woman can take.

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According to Dr. Price, risk factors for cervical cancer among women include:
 Having HPV infection
 Smoking tobacco
 Having several sexual partners
 Having HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or another medical condition that makes it hard
for your body to fight off infections

In addition to getting vaccinated, the most important thing women can do to help prevent cervical cancer is to have regular screening tests starting at age 21, Dr. Price said. The Pap smear looks for pre-cancerous cell changes on the cervix, which could lead to cervical cancer if not treated appropriately. Cervical cancer screening can decrease cervical cancer deaths by 96.4%, as treatment is most effective when cancer is found early.

A cervical cancer screening test prevents the disease by detecting and treating abnormal cells before they become cancerous, according to health experts. In fact, more than 50% of all new cervical cancers are in women who have never been screened or have not been screened in the previous five years of their lives.

“Early on, cervical cancer may not cause signs or symptoms,” Dr. Price said. “However, advanced cervical cancer may cause abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge. What’s important to know is that vaccinations could prevent most deaths from cervical cancer, regular screenings and follow-up care.”