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January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month: Tips from Dr. Sheri MarquezJanuary is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month: Tips from Dr. Sheri Marquez

Health Alert

For 2015, it is estimated that there will be 12,900 new cases of cervical cancer and 4,100 patients will die from the disease. Be aware of your risk and what you can do to minimize it.

ARE YOU AT RISK? HPV is a virus which has been linked to the development of cervix cancer,  associated with >90% of cases. It spreads through skin to skin contact, including sexual contact. Up to 80% of women will contract HPV sometime in their lives. With a healthy immune system, the virus usually clears the system in 12-18 months. Therefore, having HPV does not mean you will get cervical cancer.  Only a small percentage of women with high risk HPV will develop cervix cancer. 

Factors associated with the development of cervical cancer include:

1. Sexual behaviors: early first intercourse, multiple partners, pregnancy before age 17 or >3 full term pregnancies, history of other STD’s.

2. Family history: women with a sister or mother with a history of cervical CA are twice as likely to develop cervical CA.

3. Lifestyle: Smokers are twice as likely to develop cervical CA. Some types of oral contraceptive (OCP) use, when used over five years. Fortunately, this risk returns to normal  levels within a few years of stopping OCP use.

4. Weakened immune system: HIV or drugs which weaken the immune system are thought to interfere with the body’s ability to clear the HPV virus. 

5. Other: patients whose mothers took DES, given to prevent miscarriage, race (Hispanic are at 

Introduced in the 1950’s routine Pap smear screening, where the cervical cells are sampled, is one of the greatest cancer prevention developments in US history, reducing the mortality from the disease by 70%. 

Pap smears can identify changes in the cervix before cancer develops, allowing for early treatment and cures. Most of the time, cervical dysplasia (abnormal development of the cells—pre-invasive disease) precedes the development of invasive cervical cancer; that entity can be treated conservatively and preserve fertility. Over 50% of new cases of cervix cancer occur in women who rarely or have never been screened. 

HPV vaccination, for the prevention of cancers caused by high-risk HPV strains, was FDA approved in 2006. While cervical cancer used to be a common cause of cancer death for American women, and remains a leading cause of cancer death in women from developing countries, the combination of Pap smear screening and HPV vaccination may prevent up to 93% of new cases!

The American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP) recommends screening > 21 years old. After age 30, screening should include high-risk HPV evaluation in addition to the Pap smear. Following three normal annual exams after age 30, screenings once every three years may be performed. If pap smears are routinely normal, screening may stop after age 65.

Most cervical cancers respond well to treatment if diagnosed early and can be managed surgically or with combined radiation and chemotherapy. Learn more about your specific risk and get screened. We have  programs which pay for or help you pay for your screening tests, so that cost is not an issue! Cervical cancer screening tests are easy, and may just save your life! 

Please contact White Memorial Ob/Gyn Medical Group at (323) 225-4300 to schedule your screening appointment.