Despite the fact that cervical cancer is one of the few gynecologic (GYN) cancers that are preventable through vaccination and for which screening is available to catch pre-cancer before it develops into cancer, each year in the United States, about 11,500 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The main cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV).
“HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease,” said Jayson Field, MD, a gynecologic oncologist who works with the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Greater Lansing. “About 80% of sexually active people have been exposed to HPV.”
The best defense against HPV and cervical cancer is a vaccine. The vaccine can be given as early as age 9, but it is recommended to start the vaccine around ages 11 to 12.
“The goal is to vaccinate when they are young and their immune systems are at their best,” said Dr. Field. “Also, the vaccine is most effective before the patient is sexually active and exposed to HPV.”
When the FDA approved the first generation of Gardasil® in 2006, it protected against four strains of HPV. Today, the vaccine protects against nine strains of HPV, including HPV types 16 and 18 which cause most HPV cancers.
“The best thing you can do is get your children (or yourself) vaccinated,” said Dr. Field. “I had read that if vaccination rates continue to improve, we might be able to eradicate cervical cancer by 2034 in the United States.”
However, people with limited access to health care and who are not eligible for the vaccine are still at risk for developing cervical cancer. One way to catch cervical cancer before it develops in women is to stay up to date on cervical screening with a PAP test. A PAP test can determine if you have any abnormal cells on your cervix that might be at an increased risk of becoming cancerous.
If you have an abnormal PAP test, or symptoms of cervical cancer, which are commonly bleeding after intercourse, pelvic pain, unusual discharge, or swelling of your upper leg, you may receive a biopsy of your cervix, where a doctor will determine if you do have cervical cancer.
“For many cervical cancer cases, if the disease is in early stages, it may be as simple as taking a one- to two-centimeter biopsy from the cervix to remove all of the cancer,” said Dr. Field. “If the cancer is in advanced stages, we may need to treat it with a radical hysterectomy and/or medical or radiation oncology.”
Dr. Field is a nationally recognized, ABOG board-certified gynecologic oncologist and has been involved in translational and clinical research in HPV and its impact on cervical dysplasia and cancer, PARP inhibitors and ovarian cancer, surgery for endometrial cancer and cervical cancer, and chemotherapy for ovarian and endometrial cancer. He brings more than 15 years of gynecological oncology experience to mid-Michigan and believes that every patient should receive specialized oncology care.
To find an OB-GYN or pediatrician who can provide the HPV vaccine, click here.