January usually makes everyone feel gloomy. We’ve put away the sparkle of the holidays and the sky is usually grey and dreary. However, “the latest news about cervical cancer rates will bring us all some joy,” says Dr. Kikelomo Garritano of Her Wellness Health Center. While awareness alone can’t cure cancer, knowing what to look for and when to begin screening can greatly increase your chances of surviving or avoiding cervical cancer. Dr. Garritano explains the facts about cervical cancer – and the reasons to be hopeful after all.
The cervix is the long, narrow organ which connects the uterus and vagina. The cervix is a passage for fluids during menstruation and for sperm from the vagina. It can also be a conduit for infection from the vagina and, like all organs, can form precancerous and cancerous lesions.
Cervical cancer forms on the surface of the cervix, typically beginning with the formation of precancerous cells. Roughly 10 to 20% of cervical cancers are adenocarcinomas, cancerous cells that develop in the linings of organs. The remaining 80-90% of cervical cancers are a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinomas.
Scientists have linked the formation of squamous cell carcinomas in the cervix to certain strains of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a very common virus that is usually transmitted through sex, but also through intimate mucous membranes. Many people contract HPV, but it usually does not cause any symptoms – and it can take many years for an exposure to HPV to develop into cancer. Researchers estimate over 13,000 patients are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, accounting for around 4,000 deaths.
It takes time for HPV exposure to develop into cervical cancer, so routine and consistent Pap tests help to identify any precancerous or cancerous growths. Not all pre-cancerous squamous cells turn into cancer. If your Pap test shows pre-cancerous results, Dr. Garritano can help you understand these findings and explain any further testing needed.
“Now for the good news,” says Dr. Garritano. The HPV vaccine was introduced in 2006. Among the age groups most likely to be vaccinated, the rate of new cervical cancer cases is dropping, as much as 23% each year. She recommends all children begin the HPV vaccination series by the age of 12. “Broader use of the HPV vaccine will lower exposure to the cancer-causing virus, significantly reducing the development of cervical cancers.”