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Cervical Cancer - Signs, Symptoms and Prevention with Dr. Kimberly Levinson

January 10, 2018
Cervical cancer is a highly preventable disease, but more than 13,000 women die from it every year in the United States.

In this episode of To Your Health, GBMC's Associate Director of Gynecologic Oncology, Dr. Kimberly Levinson, MD, answers live questions and discusses important information on the signs, symptoms, and prevention of cervical cancer with host John Lazarou.

When caught in its early stages, cervical cancer is very treatable. Unfortunately, cervical cancer is mostly asymptomatic, so it's impossible to know if the disease is present without regular screening. These screenings can be done during a yearly "well woman” exam with a gynecologist. There are two types of tests that are used to check for cervical cancer — a pap smear and an HPV test. The pap smear test checks for abnormalities in cervical cells and the HPV test checks for the presence of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV).

HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that most people have had at some point in their lives. Despite its prevalence, having been exposed to HPV does not mean that you will develop cervical cancer. "HPV is necessary, but not sufficient in and of itself, to cause cervical cancer," explains Dr. Levinson. Most people can fight off the virus on their own; the issue arises for the 20% to 30% of women who cannot naturally fight it off. When HPV is present in the cervix over a period of seven to ten years, it may change the anatomy of the cells and create the opportunity for cancer cells to develop.

Because there is no cure for the virus itself, the best way to fight HPV is to be vaccinated before becoming sexually active. The vaccine can be given to children as young as nine years old and is approved for adults through twenty-six years old. Men and boys can also carry HPV, so the vaccination is recommended for boys as well as girls. This helps to prevent the spread of the virus and decreases the likelihood of other cancers related to HPV, such as tonsillar and mouth cancer, from developing. "Male cancers that are associated with HPV are on the rise," says Dr. Levinson.

During the conversation, Dr. Levinson also discussed the types of cervical cancer and HPV and how each is treated once it has been diagnosed.

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