“Scientists, doctors and patients are winning the war on cervical cancer, but you can only beat it if you treat it,” begins anchor Phil Bayly on Forum 13. He was joined by Ellen Biggers, OB/GYN, to discuss cervical cancer, HPV vaccines, prevention and more in a segment taped earlier this year.
Dr. Biggers, president of Burdett Birth Center and GYN department chair at Samaritan Hospital, explains that with screening through annual pap smears beginning at age 21, cervical cancer can be caught at early pre-cancerous stages and treated. “It’s one of the greatest success stories on a public health level,” says Dr. Biggers. But, it requires women to visit health care providers to get screened.
Cervical cancer kills about 4,000 women a year. Most commonly these women are in the prime of their lives – aged 35 to 50. But, many of these deaths could be prevented with regular screening and visits to health care providers at first sign of unusual symptoms, like irregular bleeding or bleeding after sex, unusual vaginal discharge or pelvic pain.
The human papilloma virus, or HPV, occurs in 70% of the population and is the main cause of cervical cancers. However, the virus takes many forms and just because one has HPV does not necessarily mean she has, or will develop, cervical cancer. Mild forms of HPV may just be monitored and can be managed by the human immune system. The more severe forms of HPV are pre-cancerous and must be treated, cautions Dr. Biggers.
HPV vaccines, like Gardasil, can help protect against the types of HPV that cause seven out of ten cases of cervical cancer and nine out of ten cases of genital warts. Health care providers, including Burdett Birth Center, encourage that boys – who cannot get cervical cancer, but can get HPV and become carriers – and girls receive an HPV vaccine between the ages of 9 and 11, long before they become sexually active to maximize protection. Parents are encouraged to talk to their children’s primary care physician to discuss any questions or reservations.
Free screening programs for cervical cancer and mammograms are available to women, including those without health insurance coverage. We recommend that women who are interested in screening visit any of the offices associated with St. Peter’s Health Partners, including Burdett Birth Center, for guidance on these free screenings.
Remember, you can only beat cervical cancer if you treat cervical cancer. The best way to know if you have the disease is through regular screening. Please consult your OB/GYN or primary care physician to find out more and inquire about screening options.