The month of January is recognized as Cervical Cancer Screening Month and Cervical Health Awareness Month, highlighting issues related to cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV), and the importance of early detection.
Recent advances and research in the prevention, detection and treatment of cervical cancer makes this disease less common in the United States than around the globe. Worldwide, cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women. However, when screened regularly, the chances of developing cervical cancer drops dramatically.
“We know that a large majority of the people who are diagnosed with cervical cancer were never screened or had not been screened in the last five years,” said Dr. Carolyn Moyers, a board certified gynecologist and obstetrician with Memorial Clinics. “There has been a 50 percent decrease of cervical cancer in the last 30 years, and that’s because we’ve made great strides in screening.”
Cancer treatment is most effective when caught early, and of all the gynecologic cancers, only cervical cancer has a specific screening test—the Pap smear test.
In November 2012, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology and the American Society of Clinical Pathology revised the guidelines for cervical cancer screening. It is now recommended women ages 21 to 29 years old get a Pap smear every three years. For women ages 30 to 65, Pap smear screening and HPV testing should be done every five years. Women over 65 can discontinue screening.
“The purpose of screening is to identify an abnormality before there is ever a large mass on the cervix,” Dr. Moyers said. “Your goal is to identify abnormalities before they reach that stage.”
Even though Pap smear screening is less frequent, an annual wellness exam is still recommended for all women.
Persistent HPV infections over time can cause cervical cancer. Dr. Moyers said it takes about 20 years for HPV to develop into cervical cancer, which is why this type of cancer is usually found in older women. Gardasil, a 3-shot series, approaches 100 percent protection if the vaccine is received before exposure to HPV. The Advisory Committee on Immunization practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommend administration of the vaccine for females aged 9 to 26 years.
“Eighty percent of women have been exposed to HPV by the time they reach 50 years of age,” Dr. Moyers said. “This vaccine is about protecting your children and their future.”
Cervical cancer can be treated with surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, depending on the stage of cancer at diagnosis.
Cervical cancer is more likely preventable if women vaccinate early, receive Pap smears regularly, and see their physician for an annual wellness exam.
To schedule a Pap test or an annual wellness exam, please contact Dr. Moyers’ office at 936-639-7633. Her office hours are Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (closed from Noon to 1 p.m.) and Friday 8:30 a.m. to Noon. She is located at 1105 West Frank Street, Suite 200 inside Memorial’s Medical Arts Pavilion.