BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The CDC states across the U.S. there are about 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer reported among women every year, with about 4,000 deaths. Although, this type of cancer is very preventable which is why it’s important women get tested.
With January being Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, Kern County health leaders are trying to educate the community on exactly how this type of cancer develops. Dr. Amolika Mangat at Adventist Health explained cervical cancer, which appears in the lower part of the uterus in women, is mostly caused by HPV which can be detected with a Pap smear.
“The pap smear will look for abnormal cells that can turn into precancerous or cancerous cells. The pap smear also looks for that HPV virus which can cause those changes in those cells.”
She said that more than 90 percent of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV. Although HPV can cause several other types of cancers affecting both men and women, cervical cancer is unique as it can be detected early on through screenings like a pap smear.
Dr. Mangat explained that the sexually transmitted virus, HPV, causes several cancers among both men and women. But cervical cancer is the only one among these that can be detected early through screenings.
“Between 21-29, we recommend doing a pap smear every three years. At 25-29 you can also do HPV screening. Beyond the age of 29, so around 30-65, it’s recommended that you either do a pap smear every three years, and HPV screening every five years, or both a Pap and an HPV screening every five years.”
Screenings are also important because symptoms are hard to look out for.
Deanna Padilla, a Family Nurse Practitioner at Omni Family Health said, “What is kind of scary is that in the early stages of cervical cancer, a lot of times there are no symptoms at all. Sometimes in the later stages, the symptoms are even just mild. You can experience some pelvic pain, pain with intercourse, spotting, or bleeding. So screening is the main thing we recommend since you may not see any symptoms at all.”
Padilla explained that people following the check-up pattern, using protection during intercourse, and getting vaccinated against HPV have helped prevent cases.
“The vast majority of Pap smears will come back normal, and I love calling people with normal results. But we do see results that are abnormal and there are things that can be done. Your doctor can scrape those cells away or freeze them away. There are a lot of things that can be done to stop those cancerous cells from becoming a bigger problem.”
According to the CDC, cervical cancer was once the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the U.S. in the late '90s. Through the years you can see California went from having a high number of these cases to now being rare. Looking closer at a demographic breakdown, Hispanic women make up a majority of the cases.
Both Dr. Mangat and Padilla stressed that since this is the only HPV-causing cancer that can be detected early on, people should take advantage of that and get screened before it is too late.
How HPV Affects Men
As mentioned before, HPV can affect both men and women and unfortunately, it’s harder to detect in men. Padilla brought up that since HPV is a sexually transmitted virus, and is the main cause of cervical cancer cases, practicing safe sex and getting checked is the best but not the only way to prevent this cancer.
“Smoking is a factor that doesn’t seem associated at all but really is. Smoking is highly linked to cervical cancer and causes squamous cell cancer. So, if you don't smoke, don't start and if you do, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.”
Although cervical cancer only affects women, because a majority of cases are brought on by the HPV virus, men can also develop different types of cancers from it.
Dr. Mangat explained, “There is no way to be checking men for HPV on a regular basis. Women can at least get the HPV testing when they do their pap smears and get cervical exams done. For men, we don’t have any.”
Dr. Mangat added that the best way to prevent HPV-caused cancers among men is to get vaccinated against the virus, which is recommended as early as 11 years old.
As we seek to raise more awareness of cervical cancer this month, 23ABC is going in-depth on the disease to give you a better understanding of how it impacts those who have been diagnosed.
- About 4,280 women die every year from cervical cancer.
- The cancer is most frequently diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44.
- It is rare for cervical cancer to develop in women younger than 20, but women over the age of 65 make up more than 20-percent of annual cases confirmed.
- There were an estimated 14,480 new cervical cancer cases in 2021.
- Of that number, 0.7-percent of the diagnoses led to death.
What is HPV?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STI. There were about 43 million HPV infections in 2018, many among people in their late teens and early 20s. There are many different types of HPV. Some types can cause health problems, including genital warts and cancers. But there are vaccines that can stop these health problems from happening. HPV is a different virus than HIV and HSV (herpes).
In most cases (9 out of 10), HPV goes away on its own within two years without health problems.
HPV can cause cervical and other cancers, including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat (called oropharyngeal cancer). This can include the base of the tongue and tonsils.
You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. It is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex. It also spreads through close skin-to-skin touching during sex. A person with HPV can pass the infection to someone even when they have no signs or symptoms.
If you are sexually active, you can get HPV, even if you have had sex with only one person. You also can develop symptoms years after having sex with someone who has the infection. This makes it hard to know when you first got it.