There aren't many
that are preventable.
is one of them.
In fact, I look forward to the day this cancer will be a rare phenomenon
in the United States.
Cervical cancer is a condition that can affect any woman, a message we've
heard recently from Erin Andrews, sportscaster for Fox NFL, who was diagnosed
last year. It is a slowly evolving cancer that starts in the cells lining
the cervix. They begin as precancerous cells, which then turn into cancer.
This change from precancerous to cancerous cells can take anywhere from
less than a year to several years.
symptoms to watch for. Patients in the early stages of cervical cancer may experience
abnormal vaginal bleeding, discharge or pelvic pain. In more advanced
cases, there can be pain in the abdomen, swelling in one or both legs,
heavy vaginal bleeding, or obstruction in normal bladder function or bowel
The great news is that changes in the cells lining the cervix can be detected
by regular Pap tests conducted every year, or at least every other year.
Andrews' cancer was discovered in just this way — through a
If a Pap test finds abnormal cells, a colposcopy is done, which magnifies
the appearance of the cervix, allowing any abnormality to be biopsied
for precancerous or cancerous cells. Precancerous tissue that's growing
on the cervix can be shaved off, removing the cells before they become
If the cells have progressed, early stage cancer can be treated with a radical
hysterectomy, performed with a non-invasive surgery for rapid recovery. More advanced
stages of cervical cancer (Stage 3 or higher) are treated with radiation
The message is clear: early detection means simpler treatment. But even
better than treatment is prevention.
Fully 99% of cervical cancer is caused by "HPV," short for human
papillomavirus. The HPV vaccine, available for both females and males
ages 9 to 26, is given as a series of three shots over a period of six months.
The HPV vaccine is effective in preventing HPV, which can cause not only
cervical cancer but also vaginal, penile and anal cancer. One of the rising
cancers found to be caused by HPV are
head-and-neck cancers, for which the vaccine is also effective.
Thanks to the widely available Pap test, and the growing use of the HPV
vaccine, cervical cancer in the U.S. has declined over the past 30 years.
I'm sad to say that there are still more than 10,000 cases of cervical
cancer and 4,000 cervical cancer deaths in the U.S. every year.
These unnecessary deaths from an entirely preventable cancer strengthen
my resolve to spread the word to women and men, husbands and wives, mothers
and fathers: regular screenings and HPV vaccines save lives.
Don't wait. If you are a woman older than 21, make your appointment
for a Pap test. If there are children or youth in your life who have not
yet received the HPV vaccine, don't wait. Help me spread the word:
let's make cervical cancer a thing of the past.
Dr. ALBERTO MENDIVIL practices gynecologic oncology at Hoag Hospital.
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