Over the last two decades, awareness of cervical cancer has grown significantly. This is due in large part to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, whose mission is to help women, family members, and caregivers battle the personal issues related to cervical cancer and promote prevention through community education. Subsequently, the U.S. government designated the month of January to also raise awareness about this form of cancer.
Years ago, cervical cancer was one of the most common types of cancer that resulted in death for women in the United States. With the advent and increase in usage of Pap tests, the cervical cancer death rate decreased dramatically due to much earlier diagnoses.
How has this screening test helped? Before cancer even starts to develop in the cervix, a Pap test can recognize subtle changes. And if cervical cancer has started to evolve, this screening test identifies the change earlier on, when it’s easier to treat and cure. In 1971 when President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act and introduced the federal mandate “war on cancer,” the five-year survival of women with Stage 0 cervical cancer was less than 50 percent compared to 93 percent today.
Who is At Risk?
Women between the ages of 35 and 54 are most at risk for developing cervical cancer. It is rare in women younger than 20. Nevertheless, older women need to understand that they aren’t without risk as well. In fact, the percent of new cases of cervical cancer in women over the age of 65 is almost 20 percent of all new cases diagnosed.
In looking at ethnicity, Hispanic women are the population with the highest rates of cervical cancer. They are followed by African Americans, Caucasians, and Asians.
What predisposes a woman toward cervical cancer? There are several risk factors that can increase a woman’s risk in developing this form of cancer.
Risk factors are:
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): Over the last couple of years, there has been an increase in spreading the word about this most important risk factor for cervical cancer. Some individuals who are not able to rid their body of HPV develop a chronic infection, which greatly increases their risk of developing cervical cancer.
- Weak immune system: As with other forms of cancer, a weak immune system puts individuals at high risk due to the fact that the body isn’t able to destroy or curtail the growth and spread of cancer cells or infections such as HPV. For example, cervical pre-cancer can rapidly become invasive in a woman who also has HIV.
- Smoking: Any woman who smokes tobacco puts herself at almost double the risk of developing cervical cancer. Studies have demonstrated that the by-products of tobacco damage the DNA in the cervix. Smoking also can weaken the immune system in fighting HPV infections.
- Chlamydia: This common bacterial infection gravitates to a woman’s reproductive organs. Like HPV, this infection is spread via sexual contact and most women do not experience any symptoms. According to a study published in JAMA, research confirmed a high risk of cervical cancer in women who had past or current chlamydia infections, which were then verified by blood tests and cervical mucus.
- Family history: As with breast cancer, a mother or sister with cervical cancer increases a woman’s chance of developing this disease. This may be due to a family tendency to inherit the inability for women to fight off HPV infections.
We Can Prevent Cervical Cancer
Each year, more than 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States. Yet cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers today. In most cases cervical cancer can be prevented through early detection and treatment of abnormal cell changes that occur in the cervix years before cervical cancer develops.
If you have concerns about a cancer diagnosis, please call (561) 622-6111 and make a consultation with Dr. Michael Hall, Radiation Oncologist at The Medical Group of South Florida. Dr. Michael Hall can help walk you through the various treatment options available to your unique situation.
Book a consultation with Dr. Hall today!