Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer affecting women, and health officials have designated the month of January to spread awareness and educate the public. In the United States, nearly 11,500 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year compared to more than 197,000 cases of lung cancer. These lower numbers are largely attributed to cancer screenings and other preventive measures.

Cervical cancer is a cancer that begins in the cervix, which is in the lower part of a woman’s uterus. Almost all cases are linked to infection caused by a virus known as HPV (human papillomavirus), which the majority of women will come in contact with during their lifetime. HPV infections usually present no symptoms, and in most cases, the immune system will clear HPV from a woman’s body. However, persistent or long-term HPV infections can cause abnormal cells to develop in the cervix, which can become cancerous.

While advancements in healthcare have improved prevention and detection, cervical cancer remains a serious issue. To lessen the rates of cervical cancer, it is essential to understand its risk factors and the importance of early detection. The Advanced Women’s Care Center at Pikeville Medical Center (PMC) has the area’s largest OB/GYN team, featuring seven highly experienced, board-certified physicians. The PMC OB/GYN team spends time discussing risk factors with patients and encouraging preventive measures such as regular screenings and vaccinations.

Risk factors of cervical cancer include HPV, smoking, a weakened immune system and long-term use of oral contraceptives. The HPV vaccine is a powerful tool in preventing cervical cancer. Administered to adolescents before they become sexually active, the HPV vaccine protects against several high-risk strains. Other prevention measures include regular pap smears and safe sex practices. The American Cancer Society recommends that women begin receiving pap smears at age 21 and continue every three years until age 29. From ages 30 to 65, a combination of Pap smears and HPV tests is recommended every five years.

When diagnosed in the early stages, cervical cancer is among the most successfully treatable types of cancer. Health officials widely believe that a unified approach to prevention, screening for and treating cervical cancer can lead to its elimination as a public health concern within the next several years.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with a PMC OB/GYN provider, call (606)-430-2207.