Cervical cancer is preventable, yet there over 500,000 people diagnosed with cervical cancer globally every year. What can be done?

In preparing for this podcast, I discovered that there are 500,000 women/people with cervix, diagnosed with cervical cancer globally.

There are over 300,000 deaths from cervical cancer every year.

In America, 10 women die everyday due to cervical cancer.

These numbers are puzzling, considering cervical cancer is preventable.

  • The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the cause of cervical cancer. The vaccine for HPV is available and the vaccine prevents cervical cancer, in addition to preventing other HPV-related illnesses such as genital warts, throat cancer, anal cancer, penile cancer, vulva cancer, and other cancers.
  • HPV is transmitted through sex and can also be transmitted by skin-to skin contact. After infection with HPV, it takes about 15 years to develop from HPV infection to full blown cervical cancer. Screening for cervical cancer is important to detect cervical cancer at it’s earliest stages called precancer. Precancer is much easier to treat that full blown cervical cancer.
  • Cervical cancer is most common between the age of 35 to 44 years, with 50 years of age as the average age of cervical cancer diagnosis.

Preventing cervical cancer

  • HPV vaccine prevents cervical cancer. To be effective, the HPV vaccine should be given to children starting from age 9 years. The optimal age for the HPV vaccine is from 9 to 12 years for both boys and girls. The HPV vaccine is given up to age 45 years.

  • Early detection by screening for HPV, PAP test or combination of PAP and HPV test, starts from age 21 to 25 years. In resource-limited settings VIA test (visual inspection with acetic acid or white vinegar) is performed. The screening tests are performed every 3 years for PAP alone or VIA, every 5 years for HPV test or cotest of HPV and PAP.

Screening for cervical cancer continues till the age of 65 years, at which time screening can be stopped if regular screens have been done in the last 10 years and normal or there has been no history of precancer cells in the last 25 years.

If a woman, had her uterus removed, but the cervix was not removed, the screenings for cervical cancer should continue per guideline.

If a woman had a total hysterectomy and (cervix removed) for a non-cancer indication, there is no need for cervical cancer screenings, unless the hysterectomy was performed for a cancer indication, then cancer screening should continue.

What can I do if I do not have health insurance?

  • For women without health insurance, the HPV self-test kit is available for purchase online. If the test is positive, then follow up with a gynecologist will be required.
  • Seek resources from your local public health department.

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Written by Dr. Ngozi Onuoha for health awareness and education content only.

Related link: Preventing other cancers.

Resources for health providers. Comprehensive cervical cancer control : A guide to essential practice – Second edition.

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