College of DuPage Nursing student Jade Maestas asks Healthy Lombard viewers, “Would you prevent cancer if you could?”
While no universal cure for cancer exists yet, some forms of cancer are highly preventable due to modern medical advances. Cervical cancer is one of these. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 93% of cervical cancers could be prevented through regular vaccination and screening.1 Every single year, over 13,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,000 people die from it.2 Widespread use of just these two prevention methods alone could prevent the vast majority of these illnesses and deaths.
Connected to 99% of cervical cancer cases, human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the main risk factor for developing cervical cancer.2 HPV infection is also incredibly common. Whether or not they realize it, about 80% of all women have been infected with HPV at some point in their lives by the time they are 50 years old.2 Further, 9 out of 10 people will have HPV at least once during their lifetimes.3 Most of the time, our bodies can fight off HPV, and the infections clear without causing any further issues. However, the virus sometimes causes changes in normal body cells that can lead to the development of cancer over time. In addition to cervical cancer, the virus can cause head, neck, mouth, throat, anal, vaginal, and penile cancers.4 Fortunately, the HPV vaccine can prevent this cancer-causing infection.
The vaccine is recommended for all children and can be first administered as early as age 9.5 Adults who have not yet received the vaccine are encouraged to do so as soon as possible to increase the chance of preventing infection. Adults 26 and younger are at the highest risk for new infection, but people as old as 45 can receive the vaccine.5
Regular cervical screening, in addition to the HPV vaccine, will also help prevent cervical cancer. A Pap smear (also called a Pap test or Papanicolaou test) can detect changes in the cells of the cervix that suggest cancer may develop in the future.6 The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that anyone with a cervix get a Pap smear done every 3 years from age 21 to 65.7 If cervical cancer does still develop, regular Pap smears give doctors a way to detect it early and begin treatment as soon as possible.