Tag Archives: hpv

Cervical Cancer: Very Preventable


Cervical cancer was once the leading cause of cancer death for American women. Thanks to routine testing and vaccination, it is now largely preventable, but women of color still get and die from the disease at higher rates than other women.

Cause of cervical cancer
Cervical cancer occurs in the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. Most people’s immune systems fight off HPV with no problem. In 10%-20% of women, however, the virus survives and can cause cervical cancer.

Routine Pap tests can detect precancerous conditions of the cervix, as well as early stages of cancer, and the HPV vaccine is effective in preventing the disease. With this combination, cervical cancer rates and deaths have declined by 75% in recent years.

Racial disparities in cervical cancer
Despite this good news, women of color are twice as likely to get and die from cervical cancer than white women. Reasons for this include disparities experienced by some minority women:
• Economic barriers to gynecologic care. Low-income women are less likely to be able to access health care, including cervical cancer screening.
• Even when they get a Pap test, minority women have less access to follow-up care. This makes them more likely to get a late-stage diagnosis of cervical cancer when successful treatment is more difficult.
• Black women are the least likely of any racial group to get the HPV vaccine. Barriers include limitations in insurance coverage, lack of information about the value of the HPV vaccine, and mistrust of the health care system.

Symptoms of cervical cancer
Early-stage cervical cancer generally has no symptoms. Signs of more advanced cancer include:
• Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods, or after menopause
• Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor
• Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse

Reducing your risk of cervical cancer
• Receiving a vaccination to prevent HPV infection can reduce your risk of cervical cancer. Ask your doctor whether an HPV vaccine is right for you.
• Routine Pap tests can detect precancerous conditions of the cervix, as well as catch cancer early when it’s treatable. Begin Pap tests at age 21 and repeat them every few years.
• Prevent HPV and other sexually transmitted infections by practicing safe sex, such as using a condom every time.
• Smoking has been linked to cervical cancer, so if you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.

Delilah Milligan, Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner, received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Notre Dame of Maryland University and her Master of Science in Nursing degree from Chamberlain College of Nursing. She cares for patients in MPCP’s Glen Burnie office.

HPV, the First Cancer Vaccine

By: Jamie Harms, M.D.

In 2006, the first vaccine to help prevent a cancer was released in the United States: the HPV vaccine.

Cervical cancer was one of the most common cancers among women in the U.S. until Pap smears became routine and helped identify pre-cancerous and early cancerous cervical cells. Cervical cancer is almost always caused by a virus, the human papilloma virus.

HPV is common

The human papilloma virus (HPV) is also the cause of anal and genital warts, as well as vaginal, anal, penile and oral cancers. It is spread by skin-to-skin contact, including sexual contact as well as oral sex and hand-to-genital contact.

HPV is common. It is estimated that 75-80% of sexually active adults will become infected with at least one strain of HPV by the age of 50. There are over 100 strains of HPV, and while most of them are not harmful, about 15 are known to cause cervical cancer. Most times, HPV infection goes away on its own, but in 10-20% of women, the HPV infection does not go away. These women are at risk of developing cervical cancer.

The HPV vaccine

In 2006, a vaccine against HPV was released in the U.S. The vaccine is recommended for both girls and boys at 11-12 years of age. It is given in a series of two vaccines, 6 months apart. Teens and young adults can get this vaccine later but will need three vaccines if it is given after age 15 because the vaccine is much more effective in younger teens.

Proven safe and effective

Here’s the best news… this vaccine is making a difference in our health. In girls 13-19 years of age, HPV infections have dropped by 83%. The number of women 20-24 years of age infected by HPV has dropped by 66%. That’s HUGE! The frequency of genital warts in girls and boys has dropped, too — girls by 67% and boys by 48%. The number of precancerous findings in girls has dropped by 51%.

So, this vaccine is working, and working well. Since the vaccine was released, there have been no reports of major side effects. The most common side effects are soreness and redness at the injection site, headaches and nausea. Some parents have worried that giving their child this vaccine will result in decreased fertility or will encourage them to have sex earlier or more often, but studies show that this is not true.

MPCP recommends that your child receive the HPV vaccine with their other required vaccines at 11-12 years of age. Talk with your doctor or look at these good sources for more information: