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The term “girl power” can mean or symbolize many things. Unity, strength, and empowerment may come to mind, with images ranging from little girls banding together in sisterhood to fend off the cootie-filled boys picking on them, to women throughout history, fighting together for causes they believe in. As a little girl, this phrase made me feel strong and invincible, and as an adult woman it makes me feel determined and hopeful. As females, when it comes to our health, this message is no different. Cervical cancer, one of the most preventable cancers, affects thousands of women in the United States each year. Let’s use our girl power for the rest of this month, and every month following, to spread the word about cervical health to our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, cousins, and friends. We have the ability to save lives with our message, and I can’t think of a better form of girl power than that.
There are approximately 12,000 women diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in the United States. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, it used to be one of the most common causes of cancer death for women in the U.S. However, we have seen this death rate reduce by more than half in the last 30 years! This staggering statistic was made possible by two things—screening and awareness. The National Cervical Cancer Coalition states that this disease is virtually always preventable with the appropriate screening and vaccination. Knowing that it’s so preventable makes any death from cervical cancer feel all the more unnecessary and tragic. Educate yourself and the women in your life with the screening information below.
Cervical Cancer Screening
According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, early detection and treatment of abnormal cell changes in the cervix will prevent most cases of cervical cancer. These abnormal cell changes appear in the cervix years before cervical cancer develops, and are caused by the human papillomavirus, also known as HPV. The American Cancer Society states that all women should begin cervical cancer testing at age 21. There are two types of cervical cancer screening tests used:
The Pap test, which is the most traditional and common early detection test, is used to collect cells from the cervix. The testing sample is then evaluated and examined under a microscope to find cell changes that link to cancer or pre-cancerous abnormalities. If cell abnormalities are found, they are most often due to HPV. There are many types of HPV that can cause these abnormal cell changes, most of which have been linked with cervical cancer.
However, an abnormal Pap test result is not a death sentence. The results simply give the patient the opportunity to have the problem nipped in the bud before cancerous cells have the chance to form. Her doctor can closely monitor her cervix every so often, run additional tests, and provide treatment to prevent the abnormal cell changes from turning cancerous over time. This is what makes this screening test so vital! Early detection can make a world of difference.
It is recommended that women aged 21-29 receive a Pap test every three years as their primary screening method. However, women aged 30-65 can also receive a routine Pap test every three years.
To find free or low-cost Pap testing in your area, click here.
HPV tests can find the high-risk strains of HPV that are most likely to cause cervical cancer. If any high-risk HPV is continuously found, the patient may require further treatment to ensure that cancerous cells do not form over time. The HPV test collects cells from the cervix in the same manner as the Pap test, and can even be completed simultaneously.
The HPV test is not recommended for women under the age of 30. The reason for this, the American Cancer Society states, is that women in their twenties, who are sexually active, are much more likely to have an HPV infection that will heal on its own. The results of these tests can then become confusing and misleading for this age group. Therefore, HPV tests can be used in addition to a Pap test for women age 30 and older every five years. This is referred to as co-testing, and should occur until age 65.
Before preventative screenings are even in the picture, there is something crucial that can be done—vaccination. HPV vaccines help prevent infection from high risk HPV strains that can lead to cervical cancer, as well as from low risk HPV strains that can cause genital warts. However, even if you have received the HPV vaccine, you will still need to have regular Pap tests completed to screen for cervical cancer! The vaccine is most effective when received during the preteen years, which is why the CDC recommends that all boys and girls receive the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12. If the patient is 14 years or younger, only two doses of the vaccine are required. The vaccine may also be administered to patients up to age 26, but a three-dose series is required for patients aged 15 and up.
Early vaccination is an imperative step for cervical health. Proactive steps taken today can help young women tremendously in the future. If you’re a parent with questions about the HPV vaccine, reference the video below, and also be sure to consult your child’s pediatrician.
Let’s work together to make this preventable cancer a thing of the past! Spread the word about cervical health to your patients, friends and loved ones, and show the world what girl power can do!
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