Cancer - Cervical

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month
Risk Factors
Did you know cervical cancer rates differ by race/ethnicity and region? Or that cervical cancer can be prevented? Cervical cancer begins in the lining of the cervix, when normal cells change into precancerous cells. This does not happen suddenly but over a period of years. Scientists believe that there are certain risk factors that cause the normal cells to change, increasing the chance of developing cervical cancer. Women without any of these risk factors rarely develop cervical cancer.

Human Papillomavirus
The most important risk factor is infection by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPVs are a group of viruses that are passed from person to person through genital contact. Some types can cause genital warts, others can cause cervical cancer. Anyone who has any kind of sexual activity involving genital contact with an infected person can get HPV - intercourse isn’t necessary. Many people who have HPV may not show any signs or symptoms and can therefore pass the virus on unknowingly.

HPV is easily transmitted. The CDC estimates that 20 million people in the US already had HPV in 2005. According to the CDC, the only way to be totally protected against HPV is to avoid any sexual activity that involves genital contact. Once sexually active, the best way to detect precancerous changes in the cervix is by having a Pap test. The Pap test can also detect HPV infection.

In 2006 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensed a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer and other diseases caused by types of HPV for girls/women ages 9-26 years. The vaccine is given in 3 doses over 6 months. Common side effects are pain, redness, swelling or itching at the injection site. This vaccine does not treat existing HPV infections or genital warts. In order to be effective, it must be administered before a woman becomes sexually active because they have not been exposed to HPV.

Additional Risk Factors
Sexual behavior is the major known risk factor for cervical cancer. Other risk factors are smoking and a diet low in vitamin C, beta carotene, and vitamin B, obesity, long term use of oral contraceptives, socioeconomic status and race. Women who smoke are about twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer. Smoking exposes the body to many cancer-causing chemicals that affect more that the lungs. These harmful substances are absorbed by the lungs and carried in the bloodstream throughout the body. Tobacco by-products have been found in the cervical mucus of women who smoke. Researchers believe that these substances damage the DNA of cells in the cervix and may contribute to the development of cervical cancer.

Lower income women, African Asian women and Hispanic women are known to have a higher incidence/risk of cervical cancer. Researchers believe this is due to a reluctance to get yearly Pap smears, as well as diets low in vegetables.

Cervical cancer is a preventable disease. This year about 3,670 women in the United States will die from To ensure Pap smear tests and the HPV vaccine are available for all women, the Cape May County Department of Health offers them free to uninsured, qualified women through the NJ Cancer Education and Early Detection (CEED) Program with funding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services.

County Services
In 2006 the Cape May County Health Department screened 350 uninsured women for cervical cancer. For an appointment call Carol Porter, RN, at 609-465-1200. All calls are confidential. The CEED program is supported by the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders. The HPV vaccine is made available through The Family Planning clinic for children ages 9 -18 who have no insurance. For more information or an appointment call The Family Planning clinic at 609-465-1200 for more information.