Am I At Risk For Cervical Cancer? ASK AN OBGYN

Written by on February 22, 2014 in ASK AN OBGYN - Comments Off on Am I At Risk For Cervical Cancer? ASK AN OBGYN

Dear SuzyKnew!

I am 25 years old and wonder if I’m at risk for cervical cancer. I know there is a vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer but I heard it’s just for teens.   I also read the SuzyKnew! piece on Black women dying from reproductive health issues more often than white women.  What’s your advice?    C. Johnson 

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Dear SK Reader,

Yes! Black women do die more often than white women from cervical cancer, according to the Black Women’s Health Imperative.  40% of the 2,000 Black women diagnosed with cervical cancer each year will die. Most deaths are among women who have not been screened within the last 5 years. This is unacceptable.  Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer, and women can be screened for it with routine Pap tests

Yes! There are vaccines that protect both men and women against the HPV virus, the main cause of cervical cancer. One is called Gardasil and the other Cervarix. It is given to young people way before they are sexually active so that their immune system has enough time to build up protection against the virus BEFORE they are exposed to HPV.

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, cervical cancer is the third most common cancer in women and 7th most common cancer in the world. It is more common in developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, where rates can be up to 3 times higher than the world average.

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted infection and also causes cancer of the anus and penis.  HPV is also linked to oral cancers.  Although we are very vulnerable to this disease, what recently caught our attention about HPV was when Actor Michael Douglas  spoke about his HPV-positive throat cancer.  The Huffington Post came out with an infographic on the risk of HPV-related cancers for women and men. The American Cancer Society, knows that oral cancer from HPV on the rise for both women and men and recommends being vaccinated. As of 2004, 72 percent of oral cancer tumors were HPV-positive — up from 16 percent of tumors in the 1980’s.  Why? HPV is out there and is easily spread.   This is particularly concerning for young people that want to preserve their virginity and think they wont get an STI from oral sex. Wrong! Not only can you get an STI from oral sex, but also potentially cancer.

So what can we do to prevent HPV?

1)     Get the vaccine early.  The CDC recommends the HPV vaccine for preteen girls and boys at age 11 or 12 years.  If you missed the early window, girls can get the vaccine between ages 13 through 26 years and for boys ages 13 through 21 years. So, lady, get vaccinated today!

2)     Get your annual Pap Smear.  Traditionally, our main weapon against cervical cancer has been early detection (though annual exams and Pap Smears) and once detected, treatment.

3)     Use a barrier method (condoms) for all sex- oral, anal and vaginal to prevent exposure and spread of the virus.

SuzyKnew! Ladies:  We need to spread the word about the HPV vaccine!   Rates of vaccine uptake is still pretty low and there are a lot of unfounded myths surrounding the vaccine. According to the CDC, in 2011, only 35 percent of girls ages 13-17 received all three shots in the vaccination series, and only 30 percent of women ages 19-26 had received the vaccine.

Why aren’t more people getting the vaccine?  I believe that there has not been enough press about the vaccine, which is why I was thrilled that you wrote in.   Some doctors believe that it’s because you have to have three separate shots over a six-month period.  That can be hard for some folks to schedule, but doctors are used to playing catch up on a vaccine series.  Also, some conservative groups have been spreading the message that giving the vaccine to young people will increase their likelihood of having sex.  Please, chile…  Education is the key here.   Both my son and daughter will get the vaccine.  Will you and your children?

Keep it sexy!

Keep it healthy!

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