Erie County Department of Health focuses attention on National Cervical Health Awareness Month
January is National Cervical Health Awareness Month, and the Erie County Department of Health is reminding women that screening and vaccination are important tools to detect and prevent cervical cancer.
All women are at risk of developing cervical cancer, though it occurs most often in women over 30 years of age. Women who smoke are about twice as likely to develop cervical cancer compared to non-smokers. Other risk factors include having HIV or another condition that makes it hard to fight off health problems, using birth control pills for a long time, or having given birth to three or more children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 90% of cervical cancer is caused by human papilloma virus. Early stages of cervical cancer and HPV infections do not always show symptoms.
“Cervical cancer is treatable and survivable with surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation,” explained Erie County Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein. “But each year, around 13,000 women in the United States will receive a cervical cancer diagnosis and 4,000 women will die from this disease. Continuing to promote screening and vaccination will help to reduce those numbers.”
Cervical cancer screening with a Pap test or a combination of a Pap test and high-risk human papilloma virus test is the key to cervical cancer prevention and detection. Routine screening can detect pre-cancerous changes or early cancer in the cervix that can be more easily treated. Pap tests are recommended for most women through age 65 as a routine part of health care.
“Cervical cancer is most often found in women who have never had a Pap test or who have not had one in more than five years, so it is especially important for these women to get screened as recommended by their health care provider,” Burstein said. “We encourage women not to delay their screening. Cost should not be a barrier to life-saving cancer screening and diagnosis.”
When cost is a barrier to getting screened for cervical cancer, women can call the Erie County Cancer Services Program at 716-858-7376. The Erie County Cancer Services Program works to connect eligible uninsured and underinsured women 40 years of age or older with cervical cancer screening, along with any other diagnostic testing needed after those screenings. This program is affiliated with more than 100 health care providers in Erie County.
As another way to promote cervical health, a vaccine that protects against types of the human papilloma virus that cause the majority of cervical cancers has been widely available in the U.S. since 2006. HPV is known to cause cervical, oral and anal cancers.
“The HPV vaccine is safe, effective and proven to prevent certain cancers,” Burstein said. “When 80% of people will have an HPV infection in their lifetime, this vaccine works to reduce the incidence of the HPV virus and the number of people who will develop cervical, oral and anal cancers.”
“The HPV vaccine is recommended as a routine vaccine for males and females at ages 11 and 12 years and through age 26 if they have not already been vaccinated,” she continued. “Some people between 27 and 45 years old may choose to get the vaccine after speaking to their doctor about the risks and benefits.”
For more information:
•Erie County Department of Health, Cancer Services Program: 716-858-7376 or http://www.erie.gov/cancerservices
•New York State Department of Health, Cervical Cancer: http://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/cancer/cervical/
•Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cervical Cancer: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/index.htm
•Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV Vaccine: https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/vaccine-for-hpv.html