NEWS | Jan. 11, 2011

January is cervical cancer awareness month

By Health and Wellness Center

Cancer is a disease that happens when body cells don't work right. The cells divide very quickly and grow out of control. These extra cells form a tumor. Cervical cancer is cancer in the cervix, the lower, narrow part of the uterus or womb. The uterus is the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a baby grows during a woman's pregnancy. The cervix forms a canal that opens into the vagina (birth canal), which leads to the outside of the body.

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus, a virus that is passed from person to person through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. You are more likely to get HPV if you have multiple partners. However, any woman who has ever had genital contact with another person can get HPV. Most women infected with HPV will not get cervical cancer, but, you are more likely to develop cervical cancer if you smoke, have HIV or reduced immunity, or don't get regular Pap tests. Pap tests look for changes in the cervical cells that could become cancerous if not treated.

If the Pap test finds serious changes in the cells of the cervix, the doctor will suggest more powerful tests such as a colposcopy (kol-POSS-koh-pee). This procedure uses a large micro-scope called a colposcope (KOL-poh-skohp). This tool allows the doctor to look more closely at the cells of the vagina and cervix. This and other tests can help the doctor decide what areas should be tested for cancer.

Cervical cancer is a disease that can be very serious. However, it is a disease you can help prevent. Cervical cancer happens when normal cells in the cervix change into cancer cells. This normally takes several years to happen, but it can also happen in a very short period of time.

Two kinds of vaccines, Cervarix and Gardasil can protect girls and young women against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. Cervarix and Gardasil are licensed, safe, and effective for females ages nine through 26 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all girls who are 11 or 12 years old get three doses (shots) of either brand of HPV vaccine to protect against cervical cancer and pre-cancer. Gardasil also protects against most genital warts. Girls and young women ages 13 through 26 should get all three doses of an HPV vaccine if they have not received all doses yet.

It is very important to get all three doses. No studies so far have shown whether or not one or two doses protect as well as getting three doses.

Gardasil is also licensed, safe, and effective for males ages nine nine through 26 years.

Boys and young men may choose to get this vaccine to prevent genital warts.