Yesterday was the start of Women’s Health Week, which makes it a great time to talk about the opportunities for preventing cancers unique to women. Many women may know they can reduce their risk of breast cancer – see below – but there are steps women can take to prevent other cancers as well.
Cervical cancer is one of the most common causes of cancer death in US women. The good news is that cervical cancer rates underwent an enormous decline between the 1950s and the 1990s thanks to the Pap smear – one of the highlights of our efforts to identify cancers early when they are most treatable (i.e., cancer screening). Cervical cancer screening via Pap smear allows doctors to identify early changes in the cells lining the cervix before they turn into cancers. The cells can be removed and cancer prevented! This is why cervical cancer screening is a key cancer prevention strategy. But we can also prevent those changes from occurring in most women, and pretty simply!
It turns out most cervical cancers are caused by an infection. The human papilloma virus (HPV) is the leading cause of cervical cancer. Avoiding HPV infection will prevent virtually all cervical cancers. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection. However, HPV can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact with an infected area so avoiding sexual intercourse is not a 100 percent guarantee against infection. And that’s the reason we are fortunate to have another approach to preventing infection – the HPV vaccine. Continue reading