Protect Your Cervical Health

teal ribbon with cervical cancer month is january

New Brunswick, N.J., January 7, 2021 - The American Cancer Society estimated 13,800 new cervical cancer diagnosed in the United States in 2020 and more than 4,000 deaths from it. Almost all cervical cancer cases are due to a viral infection known as HPV (human papillomavirus). HPV will first cause pre-cancer cells and if left untreated can cause cervical cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 14 million Americans, including teens, become infected with HPV each year. HPV is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact (vaginal, oral or anal intercourse). A great majority of these infections resolve on their own, but sometimes HPV infection can persist to develop precancerous lesions and eventually cervical cancer.

Screening tests are available to help prevent cervical cancer or find it early. The Pap smear is a screening test that looks for cell changes with pre-cancer or cancer cells. Pre-cancer cells can be treated to prevent cancer. It is recommended to begin having regular pap spears starting at age 21.

Additionally, an effective and safe vaccine is available to prevent cancers caused by HPV infections. The CDC recommends that children of ages 11-12 (can be started at age 9) should receive two doses of the HPV vaccine. The vaccine is approved until the age of 45 but it works better if you get it earlier. Ask your doctor and your child’s pediatrician about the vaccine to make sure you and your loved ones are protected.

While HPV is the most common cause of cervical cancer, it is not the only cause. Other risk factors include smoking, having a weakened immune system and having a family history of cervical cancer. All women should know warning signs of cervical cancer, which include abnormal vaginal bleeding or spotting, discharge or bleeding after intercourse and pelvic or back pain. Women should seek care for any of these symptoms, and maintain routine and appropriate screening with their physician.

Cervical cancer, when caught early, can be treated and cured but most importantly can be prevented with the vaccine and regular pap smears. For more information, visit our Cervical Health Resource Center.

Alexandre Buckley de Meritens, MD is a gynecologic oncologist in the Gynecologic Oncology Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center together with RWJBarnabas Health