Under WHERE? Let's Talk Cervical Health
By Tracy Hansen, APRN, FNP
January is cervical cancer awareness month. So, let’s talk about statistics, prevention and screenings.
#1: What the heck is a cervix anyway?
The cervix is the bottom part of the uterus. And the uterus is the lovely pear-shaped organ that encompasses a baby during pregnancy. (Additionally, this means only women are affected). The cervix has an opening at the bottom called the cervical os. At this opening two different kinds of cells meet (ones from the inside and ones from the outside). This meeting area is called the “transformation zone”: and the most likely spot for cancers or pre-cancers to develop.
Now with some terminology and anatomy defined we can jump into our discussion.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) cites the following stats:
· Approximately, 13,240 new cased of cervical cancer were diagnosed in 2018
· A little over 4,000 women died of cervical cancer in 2018
· Most likely group affected by cervical cancer is those age 35-44
· Cervical pre-cancers are diagnosed much more frequently
What Puts a Woman at Increased Risk of Developing a Cervical Cancer or Pre-Cancer?
· Most important: an infection with human papillomavirus (HPV). But the good news…. This is infection is potentially PREVENTABLE with a vaccine! (more below)
· A weakened immune system
· Chlamydia infection
· Diet low in fruits and vegetables
· Being overweight
· Long term use of oral contraceptive pills…. But surprisingly the use of an intrauterine device to prevent pregnancy appears to be protective against cancers of the cervix.
Pap testing (where your doctor takes a sample of cells at the transformation zone) has dramatically decreased the rate of cervical cancer death. This screening is recommended for all women over age 21 and is done every few years when the test does not detect pre-cancerous changes. If pre-cancers are detected, depending on the degree of pre-cancers, we may only monitor with more frequent pap tests or other procedures maybe required.
We established earlier that HPV infection is the number one risk factor for cervical pre-cancer or cancer development. Regular pap testing can detect pre-cancers and with treatment prevent cancer from developing.
Preventing an HPV infection is very difficult, as these infection are very common and spread easily through skin to skin contact. However, the following can help:
· Limit sex partners
· Use condoms
· GET VACCINATED
There is a vaccine that that can prevent the most likely strains of HPV to cause cervical cancers. This should be given to all boys and girls starting at age 9 and offered through age 26. By vaccinating young people we help to stop the spread of the super bad HPV strains and therefore reduce the rate of cervical cancers.
#5 Key Points
Reduce your chance of cervical cancer by getting vaccinated for HPV if you are able, limit sex partners, use condoms, don’t smoke, eat fruits and veggies, and maintain a healthy weight.
· Get screened with a pap test as recommended by your health care provider
· Call Murray County Medical Center to schedule an appointment to discuss cervical cancer screenings and prevention with myself or another provider at 507-836-6111.
For more information on cervical cancer, screening, and prevention visit https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/prevention-and-early-detection/can-cervical-cancer-be-prevented.html