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Women's Health

Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Saves Lives

Published: Jan. 11, 2022

What Causes Cervical Cancer?

The main cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is an extremely common sexually-transmitted virus. I see it nearly every day in my clinic.  

In fact, there are nearly 30 to 40 different types of HPV causing 14 million new genital HPV infections every year. HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. Not all women who contract the virus get cervical cancer, however. Some subtypes of the virus are the high-risk types that cause cervical cancer; low-risk types do not cause cancer but may cause genital warts.

Most HPV infections occur without any symptoms and go away on their own within a year or two without causing cancer. Some HPV infections, however, can persist for many years. It’s these high-risk HPV types – mostly HPV types 16 and 18 – which can lead to cell changes on the cervix that, if untreated, may progress to cancer. It’s behind nearly 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases.


What Can You Do To Lower Your Cervical Cancer Risk?

Have Regular Screenings 

Women should start getting regular Pap tests and pelvic exams starting at age 21. The Pap test is one of the most reliable and effective cancer screening tests. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends testing for women under 30 once every three years, then every five years until age 65. Testing for HPV is also performed sometimes to further identify who may be at risk to develop cervical cancer.

According to the ACOG, the use of the Pap test has reduced cervical cancer deaths over the last 30 years by more than 50 percent. While nearly 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, fewer than 4,000 died from the disease. 

Because cervical cancer most commonly takes 10 years to 20 years or more to develop, we encourage regular screening tests and follow-ups throughout a woman’s life. A gynecological exam includes much more than a Pap test, which is why regular wellness visits are so important.

Get the HPV Vaccine 

HPV vaccines are a strong weapon in preventing cervical cancer. These safe, effective vaccines protect women and men against about 75 percent of high-risk the HPV types and the health problems the virus can cause.

We recommend the HPV vaccine to all our patients ages 9-26 and some patients ages 27-45. Since we know HPV causes the Pap problems, we favor primary prevention, meaning earlier in life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children receive the HPV vaccine series anywhere from ages 9 to 26. Most commonly, it’s given in the middle school age group. The vaccine is also approved for people ages 27 to 45.

Pediatricians are doing a great job of getting their patients vaccinated when they are in the middle school age group. I would say 90 percent of the patients in our Methodist Women’s Center Adolescent Gynecology Clinics have completed their vaccine series.

Use a Condom

If you are sexually active, wearing a latex condom may lower the risk of HPV and HPV-related diseases, such as genital warts and cervical cancer. However, HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom – so they may not fully protect against HPV.


Take the Next Step

For more information about HPV and cervical cancer or to schedule a screening, talk today with your Methodist Physicians Clinic health care provider.

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About the Author

Dr. Maureen Boyle believes strongly in building a trusting relationship with her patients. She treats each woman as though they were her mother, sister or daughter, using that rule as a guide for finding the best treatment possible.

You can see Dr. Boyle at Methodist Physicians Clinic in Council Bluffs. 

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