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January 17, 2006 > Cervical Health Awareness and Screening Month

Cervical Health Awareness and Screening Month

Cervical Screenings Fight Cancer

Itís hard to believe but prior to the 1950s, cervical cancer was the leading cause of death from cancer in American women. Those were the days before cervical screenings. These days, cervical cancer doesnít get a lot of press, but all women need to be proactive in caring for their cervical health and getting a regular screening. January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. What better way to observe the occasion than by scheduling a screening with your health care provider?

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) causes almost all cancer of the cervix. HPV is a common sexually transmitted virus that usually goes away by itself.

"About 60 to 70 percent of the population has been exposed to HPV, but only about 5 percent will develop symptoms like warts," says Dr. Craig Johnson, an Obstetrician/Gynecologist at Washington Hospital.

Many people who have HPV donít even know they have it. Their bodyís immune system fights off the HPV infection and the cervical cells return to normal. This is a low-risk HPV. But some people develop high-risk HPV, which does not go away on its own and could cause abnormal, pre-cancerous cells to form. An HPV infection rarely leads to cervical cancer, especially if abnormal cells are found and treated prior to cancer developing.

Abnormal cells can be screened through a Pap test, which is sometimes referred to as a Pap smear. Since doctors began doing Pap tests in the 1950s, 70 percent of the women who may have died from cervical cancer have been saved, according to the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation.

A Pap test should be part of a womanís routine health care so that abnormalities in the cervix can be detected and treated. A Pap test is done in a doctor's office or a health clinic. It is a quick and relatively painless test. A doctor uses a small, soft brush to collect cells from the cervix. These cells are sent to a medical laboratory to be looked at under a microscope. A Pap screening is the only way a woman or her doctor can tell if there are early, pre-cancerous changes in the cervix that could lead to cancer.

Women should get a Pap test at least once every three years and starting no later than age 21, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Johnson says there are certain factors that put some women at higher risk for getting cervical disease and cervical cancer:

* Women who have several sex partners
* Women who began sexual intercourse at a young age
* Women with another sexually transmitted disease, like HIV
* Smokers have a greater risk of getting cervical cancer

For more information on HPV, cervical cancer and Pap screenings, visit the Web sites of: the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, the Womenís Cancer Network and the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation

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