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Cervical Cancer, Causes, Prevention and Screening

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Last year, 11,270 new cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed and another 1.2 million women will develop dysplasia, a condition which left untreated will turn into cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is a malignancy that develops in tissues of the cervix: the organ which connects the uterus to the vagina. It is preventable, slow-growing (so that it can be detected and cured early in its course), and is nearly always caused by infection from the human papilloma virus (HPV).
Cause: Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV – a highly contagious virus which can be transmitted easily by skin to skin and sexual contact.

• At least half of all sexually active Americans contract HPV during their lifetimes
• About 20 million Americans between the ages of 15 and 50 carry the virus.
• There are more than 100 types of HPV – of which more than a dozen (termed “high risk types”) can cause cervical cancer.
• Most often, a person’s immune system kills off the virus without intervention
• Exposure to high risk types of HPV is more likely to lead to cancerous changes of the cervix in women who smoke or whose immune system is impaired.
Prevention: Cervical cancer can be prevented by
• Having no intimate contact with either men or other women
• Obtaining the HPV vaccine – which can immunize against two high risk types of HPV (types 16 and 18), which cause about 70% of cervical cancers. It is given as a series of three injections over a period of six months. The vaccine is now FDA-approved for females and males between the ages of 9 and 26, although many physicians recommend the vaccine up to age 50 for sexually active women and men who have sex with men.
• Screening and treatment for early evidence of pre-malignant changes to the cervix

Screening: The “pap smear” (Papanicolaou test) is used to screen for cervical cancer as part of the gynecological examination. It can reveal early, pre-malignant changes to the cervix. It is done by gently scraping the cervix with a wooden or plastic spatula and then by inserting a very small brush into the opening of the cervix. The cells thus obtained are then evaluated by a commercial laboratory.

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HERWriter Guide

Dr Lewin - This comprehensive overview of cervical cancer prevention and screening is really important. There are, unfortunately, far too many women who don't know these facts, and this information will be invaluable to them in taking charge of their own health. Thank you for providing your insight and expertise! Pat

January 13, 2010 - 6:02pm
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