SPRINGFIELD — January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers with appropriate screening. The experts at Women’s Health Associates, a specialized women’s healthcare practice providing obstetrical and gynecological care in Springfield and Westfield, are using Cervical Cancer Awareness Month to educate women about protecting themselves against this disease.
“The two most important things that women can do to prevent cervical cancer are to get the HPV [human papillomavirus] vaccination series and to have regular Pap smears and HPV screening,” said Dr. Lydia Lormand, obstetrician/gynecologist, Women’s Health Associates. “The main cause of cervical cancer is HPV infection; however, because not all women received the vaccines and because the vaccine doesn’t protect against every type of HPV, regular screening is also essential.”
There are several FDA-approved vaccinations for the prevention of HPV-caused cervical and other cancers, which should ideally be administered before the patient is sexually active. The Centers for Disease Control currently recommends that 11- and 12-year-olds receive two doses at least six months apart. The vaccines have been found to provide up to 100% protection against two types of HPV, and up to 97% for the other five types.
“Regular Pap smears and HPV screening help us detect precancerous changes in the cervix that allow us to treat the infection before cancer develops or to treat it in its earliest stages,” Lormand said. “Talk to your provider about your risk factors and history so you can develop a screening schedule.”
HPV infection is very common, but in most cases, the infection clears itself. When it doesn’t clear, or if it becomes chronic, it can lead to certain cancers, including cervical cancer. Other risk factors for cervical cancer include smoking; a weakened immune system; certain sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia; having a male sexual partner who has had multiple sexual partners; a personal history of dysplasia of the cervix, vagina, or vulva; and early age (under 18) for the first time having sex.
“Depending on your risk factors, as well as prior Pap smear results, we will discuss how often you should have Pap smears,” Lormand said. “Even if you do not need a Pap smear every year, we still recommend yearly pelvic exams as another form of screening.”