Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Disease That Every Woman Who Has Ever Had Sex with Anyone Needs to Know About

by Melissa Garvey, ACNM Writer and Editor

Did you know that cervical cancer is the second biggest cause of cancer death for women? Unlike breast cancer, cervical cancer is preventable. The cause is a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV), which can be detected and prevented from developing into cancer. Not all types of HPV lead to cancer, but we now know which types are responsible for up to 70% of all cases.

Some women reason that because they use condoms, have been monogamous for years, are on birth control, or are lesbian, they don’t have to worry about HPV. But every woman who has ever had sex with anyone is at risk of HPV infection.

So what can women do to prevent cervical cancer? Here are a few tips from Tamika & Friends, a nonprofit organization founded by cervical cancer survivor Tamika Felder:

  • Get Vaccinated: Women 9 to 26 years old are eligible to receive Gardasil, a vaccine that protects against the two types of HPV that are responsible for 70% of all cervical cancers. But take heed. Vaccination doesn’t necessarily equal immunity. If you’ve already been infected with HPV, the vaccine won’t protect you. And everyone who receives the vaccine still needs to be screened regularly because they aren’t protected from the remaining 30% of cervical cancer cases.

  • Get Tested: The two key tests for cervical cancer prevention include the Pap test and the HPV test. Click here for guidance on how often you should receive each test, and be sure to consider visiting a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) or certified midwife (CM) to receive screening services. (You can find a midwife here!)

  • Know Your Risk Status: Cervical cancer affects women of color unequally compared to white women. Hispanic women have twice the rate of cervical cancer as non-Hispanic white women, and African American women develop cervical cancer 50% more often than Non-Hispanic white women. If you are a woman of color, you deserve the best testing and best treatment. Know your options and make yourself heard.
Despite the fact that half of women who die from cervical cancer have never been screened or have not been screened in the past year, minimal funding and lack of awareness has led to only a small percentage of women eligible for free or low cost cervical screening under the CDC’s Early Detection Program. Tamika & Friends works with women so that they can get the funding and support they need to be adequately screened and, if necessary, treated.


sara r. said...

The Gardasil vaccine is pretty controversial. I personally would never get it or have my daughter vaccinated.

Anonymous said...

Actually, among health care providers, its not controversial at all. Its now approved for use in young men as well.

In addition, there is another vaccine coming out which protects against 2 more viruses which cause cervical cancer.

I vaccinated my daughter & all my colleagues have vaccinated theirs.

Fortunately, its now part of the routine childhood immunizations & most parents aren't even aware their child has received it.

Perhaps, one day, cervical cancer will be a disease of the past. We can only hope!

Anonymous said...

I take issue with 'every woman who has ever had sex with anyone' - while I agree that perhaps the drastic statement catches the necessary attention about a fully preventable disease, I find it hard to believe I'm the only woman who is in a marriage where neither of us has ever been with another. Please be respectful when making sweeping statements.