Cervical cancer impacts about 12,000 American women annually. The survival rate is about 91 percent, a statistic that has improved – and can continue to improve – with education and prevention strategies.
Let’s look at one of these strategies – the HPV vaccine.
What Is HPV?
HPV stands for human papillomavirus, a sexually-transmitted microorganism that can play a significant role in the development of cervical cancer in women. While many strains of this virus simply cause treatable infections in the female reproductive tract, others are what doctors call “high risk” viruses.
Why are they termed high risk? It is because they often lead to cancer of the cervix. HPV viruses change the surface cells of the cervix and sometimes the deeper tissues of this entryway to the uterus. Plus, these microorganisms pass easily from one person to another, especially through vulnerable tissues in the genitourinary organs and upper and lower gastrointestinal tract.
Unfortunately, cervical cancer rarely shows symptoms noticeable to the patient. That’s why routine screening (PAP smears) with your gynecologist is so important, particularly if you have more than one sexual partner and/or do not use safe sex practices (such as condoms) every time.
The HPV Vaccination Can Save Lives
To add an extra layer of protection against HPV infection and its consequent development of cervical cancer, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) strongly recommends the current HPV vaccine called Gardasil 9. This vaccination protects against nine strains of human papillomavirus–seven of which are high-risk for cervical cancer and two low-risk forms, which cause genital warts and other problems. However, patients and caregivers should understand that this vaccine does not cure cancer once it has developed.
HPV vaccine recommendations are as follows:
- Children can begin the series of two shots at age 11 or 12 (this includes both boys and girls).
- If the series is delayed until age 15 or older, three injections are necessary.
- Patients typically receive the vaccine series before age 26 but may get it up to age 45.
Combined with a healthy lifestyle, the vaccine greatly reduces the chances of HPV infection converting to precancerous and cancerous changes in the affected tissues. While HPV-infected organs can take a long time to develop cancer, the progression of malignancy can steadily increase 10 to 20 years after infection. That’s a critical reason to consider getting the vaccine.
In short, the HPV vaccination is an important tool in your cancer-prevention arsenal. In fact, research shows cervical cancer is on the decline because of preventive strategies, such as the vaccine and regular screening with PAP smears at your OB/GYN in Stone Mountain, GA.
Excellent OB/GYN Care in Decatur, Stonecrest, and Stone Mountain, GA
At Dekalb Women’s Specialists, our six board-certified OB/GYN specialists and their friendly team believe in preventive care and individualized patient education for all of our patients. If you wish to learn more about cervical cancer, the HPV vaccine, and minimizing your risk, please call us at (404) 508-2000, or request an appointment online.