Family health

Know the facts about cervical cancer


Some strains, especially HPV-16 and HPV-18, are known to cause cancer because they disrupt normal cell behavior and cause cells to grow out of control. Gardasil is a vaccine that helps protect against these two strains by generating an immune response to the viruses so that if the virus enters the body, the immune system destroys the virus. Gardasil can be given from 9 to 14 years old, where a series of two injections is given. For people aged 15 to 45, a series of three shots is given.

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The cervix is ​​an important organ that has the function of protecting the uterus from foreign bodies and facilitating the course of pregnancy and the delivery of a baby. The cervix can be affected by any disease, one such disease being cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is a disease of the cervix where normal cells lose their ability to behave properly and start growing out of control. The disease starts locally at the cervix and, if left unchecked, can spread to other organs in the body, a process called metastasis. When this happens, these cancer cells disrupt normal bodily processes and steal resources to continue growing out of control. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2021 there were over 14,000 new cases of cervical cancer in the United States.

Fortunately, cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers through vaccination and screening strategies. According to the American Cancer Society, the greatest risk of getting cervical cancer is infection with the human papillomavirus, or HPV. The virus mainly spreads to the cervix during sexual intercourse. There are a variety of strains of HPV, and they usually cause warts when they establish an infection. Some strains, especially HPV-16 and HPV-18, are known to cause cancer because they disrupt normal cell behavior and cause cells to grow out of control. Gardasil is a vaccine that helps protect against these two strains by generating an immune response to the viruses so that if the virus enters the body, the immune system destroys the virus. Gardasil can be given from 9 to 14 years old, where a series of two injections is given. For people aged 15 to 45, a series of three shots is given. This vaccination can help prevent the development of cervical cancer in women.

Many professional bodies also recommend that women undergo routine cervical cancer screening by cytology. What is cytology? Cytology is a branch of medicine where cells are used for diagnosis. The Pap test was pioneered by a Greek physician named Dr. George Papanicolaou, from which the procedure takes its name, and is an example of a test that uses cells for diagnosis. A common side effect of the procedure is light spotting immediately afterwards. If an abnormality is detected, further diagnostic workup will be performed as instructed by your doctor.

How often is screening recommended? A frequently cited guideline comes from the United States Preventive Task Force (USPSTF) which recommends that women begin cervical cancer screening by cytology alone beginning at age 21 and performed every three years. From ages 30 to 65, the USPSTF recommends screening every 3 years with cytology alone, every 5 years with high-risk HPV strain testing every 5 years alone, or cytology in combination with strain testing High-risk HPV every five years. Screening is done with a Pap smear, where a brush is used to collect cells from the cervix. This relatively non-invasive test is a safe and quick way to detect potentially dangerous cervical changes in women.

Cervical cancer is a deadly disease, but by respecting its behavior and with proper vaccination and screening, we can prevent it from happening.

Dr. Whitt is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a 501©3 nonprofit health center in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland and Huntsville, and serving home to a fully integrated family medicine residency program to increase the supply of family medicine physicians for Texas and our community.