WHAT CAUSES CERVICAL CANCER?
Cervical cells can become abnormal and then if not addressed become cancerous. Also HPV, human papillomavirus, is the leading cause of cervical cancer, and if detected on a PAP smear should be addressed with your gynecologist
CAN IT BE PREVENTED?
Cervical cancer can be prevented by going to get your annual exam and PAP smears as recommended which can be from every year to every 5 years, depending on the results from the test and what your doctor recommends. Cervical cancer, which is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), can also be prevented by the HPV vaccine, which is offered to young people.
WHY ARE CERVICAL CANCER DEATH RATES HIGHER AMONG BLACK WOMEN?
Cervical cancer deaths are higher among Black women and especially older Black women. Studies were corrected for those women who had a hysterectomy, which is usually with removal of the cervix, showiing a significant jump in numbers of deaths.
There are no clear answers why older and Black women are dying of cervical cancer at higher rates. Were they not properly screened? Was there no follow-up after an abnormal screening test? Was something missed during screening? Was treatment ineffective? Answering these questions are critical to identifying the most appropriate interventions that would lower these mortality rates.
DO YOU RECOMMEND THE HPV VACCINE FOR TEENAGERS WHO ARE NOT SEXUALLY ACTIVE?
As it is hard to dictate when a teenager is going to become sexually active, it is best to be preventative. A full discussion should be had with a pediatrician, gynecologist or family practice doctor on the HPV vaccine, what it is and how it is given. Routine vaccination at age 11-12 for both boys and girls is recommended.
A series of three shots is recommended over six months. HPV vaccination is also recommended for older teens and young adults who were not vaccinated when younger. The reason it is so important is that HPV causes more than 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases, and also increases the risk of vulva, penile, anal, and throat cancers.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD WOMEN HAVE A PAP SMEAR?
PAP smear screening should begin at the age of 21 and includes the Pap test and, for some women, an HPV test.
For a Pap test, the sample is examined to see if abnormal cells are present. For an HPV test, the sample is tested for the presence of 13–14 of the most common high-risk HPV types.
For women aged 21–29 years should have a Pap test alone every 3 years. HPV testing is not recommended.
Women aged 30–65 years should have a Pap test and an HPV test (co-testing) every 5 years (preferred). It also is acceptable to have a Pap test alone every 3 years.
Dr. Shepherd is a gynecologist and founder of the online women’s health forum “Her Viewpoint.” She’s a medical expert on The Today Show, Dr. Oz and CBS News, as well as a contributor to several leading publications including Women’s Day, Women’s Health and Essence.
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