GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. According to the CDC, about 13,000 cases are detected each year in the U.S. and 4,000 women die of it each year. FOX 17 talked with an expert about the importance of early detection and signs to look out for.
“Cervix cancer is one of the few cancers other than breast cancer that we really have good screening for,” said Kevin Brader, gynecologic oncologist with University of Michigan-Health West.
The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows, for every 100,000 women in the United States, eight new cervical cancer cases were reported and two women died. Here in Michigan, 323 cases of cervical cancer were reported.
“Cervical cancer has a precancerous state, meaning something that’s not cancer but will become cancer, so that gives us the ability to screen for that and catch it before it becomes something that could be life-threatening,” said Dr. Brader.
That screening is called a pap smear. He says almost all cervical cancer diagnoses start as HPV — Human Papilloma Virus — which also affects men.
“There’s some rare types that are not caused by HPV, but almost all of them, 95% at least, are caused by HPV.” said Dr. Brader.
He adds, anyone that’s sexually active has a risk of being exposed to HPV, and it’s not symptomatic in men or women initially.
An HPV vaccine is recommended to prevent cervical cancer for anyone under the age of 26. If you’re older, it’s not recommended because according to the CDC, it provides less benefit, as people in this age range are likely to have already been exposed to HPV.
Some signs of cervical cancer include abnormal uterine bleeding or bleeding after intercourse. Both likely indicate that the cancer has already developed.
Dr. Brader says that’s why it’s important to detect it as pre-cancer before it becomes cancer. The time it takes to develop into cancer can be around seven years, which he says is a big window of opportunity.
Pap smears are recommended at least every three years for women between the ages of 21–65. Women 30–65 are encouraged to get a pap smear along with an HPV test every five years.
Dr. Brader says cases of cervical cancer that are diagnosed early can be treated with surgery.
“It’s a specific type of surgery where we not only take out the cervix but the tissue next to the cervix, and that’s called a radical hysterectomy. Or you can even just take out the cervix itself and preserve the uterus, and a younger woman can go on to have children,” said Dr. Brader.
He also says cervical cancer can be treated with radiation, which is usually the case for anything beyond stage one. Chemotherapy is also used. Most of these cases are curable, and if caught early, pregnancy is still possible. But making sure you stay up-to-date on your pap smear is key.
“It definitely has decreased the incidence of cervical cancer.” said Dr. Brader.
When it comes to prevention, he advises against smoking, as it increases the presence of HPV, which is known to cause cervical cancer. He also says to practice safe sex and to stay up-to-date on pap smears and HPV testing.
READ MORE: How can guys help prevent cervical cancer?