Since Cervical Cancer Awareness Month was January, it is the perfect time to recap on some of the changes that continue to lead to declining rates of cervical cancer around the world. The majority of cervical cancer cases are caused by high-risk strains of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), overall cancer death rates have shown a 2.2% decline. But HPV-related cancers are on the rise. HPV-related cancers make up one-third of all preventable cancers.
Women should be aware that HPV can cause precancerous and cancerous changes to the entire genital tract. This includes the cervix, the vagina and the vulva. These cancers remain difficult to treat and, therefore, early detection and prevention could be lifesaving.
How can you lower your risk of getting cervical cancer?
- Pap smears and HPV tests enable early detection of precancerous changes.
- There is no curative treatment for HPV, however, there is treatment for the precancerous changes. Treatment can prevent cancer formation.
- Currently, the available vaccine covers 9 strains of HPV.
- The ideal time to be vaccinated is prior to exposure to HPV. The vaccine is FDA approved (meaning safe and effective) for use in men and women ages 9-45.
- The vaccine is RECOMMENDED by the CDC between the ages of 9 and 26.
- If you are over 26 and feel that you would benefit from this vaccine, you should discuss the option with your doctor.
Is it even possible to eradicate cervical cancer?
The simple answer is: YES. HPV-associated cervical cancer can be eradicated if more people are immunized. The World Health Organization has set a goal to eliminate cervical cancer by 2030. In England, a national vaccine program has reduced the number of HPV positive adolescents dramatically. As of January 2020, <2% of sexually active young women carried the highest risk HPV strains (types 16 and 18). Australia has some of the lowest cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates. This is attributable to a nationwide vaccination program that was launched in 2007. Since then, there has been a 77% reduction in HPV type 16 and 18. And more and more programs have launched worldwide with this goal in mind.
Already have HPV? Here are some lifestyle modifications you can make to help your body fight HPV.
- Stay healthy! Boost your immune system by eating well, exercising and reducing stress.
- Avoid smoking (and vaping) nicotine. Not only is smoking just bad for you, some studies suggest that the nicotine can change the environment of your genital tract and encourage precancerous changes. HPV loves a smoker.
- Avoid acquiring other sexually transmitted diseases by minimizing number of sexual partners and using barrier protection like a condom.
- Discuss vaccination with your doctor. Even if you have already been diagnosed with HPV, the vaccine could still be of benefit by protecting you from other strains.
Remember: Even if you have received the HPV vaccine, you should continue getting examined by your doctor and screened for cervical cancer.
I am a board certified Gynecologic Oncologist seeing patients in Portland, Oregon.
I was raised in Los Angeles and completed my medical training at Los Angeles County Medical Center.
Primarily, I am a surgeon who sees patients with gynecologic malignancies and precancerous conditions, however, I also counsel patients who are genetically predisposed to cancer development. I practice evidence-based medicine and take a holistic approach to patient care. I enjoy collaborating with other health specialists and incorporating alternative medicine including acupuncture, naturopathic, and Ayurvedic medicine. My research has been published in numerous peer reviewed medical journals. Portland Monthly has named me as a “Top Doc” annually since my arrival in Portland.