January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and the Tennessee Department of Health is urging all women to get screened for cervical cancer in 2012. Cervical cancer is a silent killer that strikes without symptoms or pain until the disease is in the most advanced stage.
“The survival rate is almost 100 percent for women whose cervical cancer is found at an early stage. Deaths from cervical cancer could be decreased dramatically through the combination of vaccination and regular Pap testing,” Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH, said. “We urge all women to get screened for cervical cancer and talk to their health care providers about ways to prevent and reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer.”
Almost all cervical cancer is caused by infection with certain dangerous strains of Human Papillomavirus, a virus so common that about half of all sexually active people will be infected by one or more different strains in their lifetime. HPV vaccines can prevent infection with the kinds of HPV that cause most cervical cancer. These vaccines are available from many healthcare providers and through the Vaccines for Children program in Tennessee’s public health department clinics for anyone under age 19 with TennCare or without insurance coverage. Even though the vaccine works very well, it cannot prevent every case of cervical cancer, so vaccinated women also need regular Pap smears.
”The HPV vaccine is quite safe and very effective at preventing infections that can lead to cervical cancer and other kinds of cancer in both men and women. For this reason, it is now recommended for both young women and men,” according to Kelly Moore, MD, MPH, medical director of the Tennessee Immunization Program. “Because the vaccines prevent infections but cannot treat pre-existing infections, they work best when given well before sexual activity begins. They are typically given at age 11 or 12, along with other routine pre-teen vaccinations, but they are recommended for every woman under age 27 who has not yet been vaccinated.”
All women are at risk for developing cervical cancer, especially as they age. Screening and early diagnosis are the best ways to ensure a cervical cancer diagnosis is not fatal. The American Cancer Society reports that in the United States, about 12,701 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed this year and about 4,290 women will die from cervical cancer. Among American women diagnosed with cervical cancer, 60 to 80 percent had not had a Pap test in the past five years.
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