Vaccination, the key to early detection of cervical cancer



Sponsored by Central Florida Health Care

January is cervical cancer awareness month, and Central Florida Health Care spends the month reminding women (and men!) That there are two key factors in fighting the disease: vaccination and early detection.

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 14,480 new cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed in 2021, and about 4,200 died from it that same year.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) causes 99 percent of all cervical cancers. In addition, HPV can cause penile, throat, and anal cancers in men, so they are also at risk.

Cervical cancer incidence rates decreased by more than 50 percent from the mid-1970s to the mid-2000s, in part due to an increase in screening that can detect changes in cells in the cervix before they become cancer. The American Cancer Society says the HPV vaccine, which was first approved in 2006, also helped reduce cervical cancer cases.

“The HPV vaccine is the biggest preventive measure right now,” says Jennifer Sapp, a nurse at Central Florida Health Care. “Both men and women can do this to prevent this.”

It is recommended that children 11 or 12 years of age receive the HPV vaccine, but it can be given until they are 45 years old. Because HPV is transmitted through sexual contact, the vaccine is given to both boys and girls.

The HPV vaccination is given as a series of either two or three doses, depending on the age at the initial vaccination.

In addition to vaccination, adult women should get regular screening, says Sapp.

“Cervical cancer can be detected early with a simple Pap smear,” she says. “How often [the Pap smear is conducted] depends on age and risk factors, but the most important thing is to get examined. “

An abnormal Pap smear result doesn’t automatically mean cancer is present, but it can be a reason for more testing, Sapp says. A colposcopy, which Central Florida Health Care can do at Winter Haven and Lakeland clinics, can be used to obtain a tissue sample of the cells in question.

Tests may sound simple, but Sapp says there are many women who don’t ask for them as part of their annual checkups.

“We have a large number of women who have not been screened in over five years – or even in the past 15 years,” she says. “If people wait so long between shows, they may miss the window of opportunity that early detection gives them.”

Central Florida Health Care suggests that women 21 and over get Pap smears regularly. Unless directed otherwise by a doctor, it is recommended that the test be performed every three years until the age of 64.

“Between vaccination and regular screening, we can easily prevent the spread of HPV and reduce the incidence of cervical cancer,” explains Sapp. “It’s just a matter of recognizing these two important steps.”

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