Cervical Cancer Discussed on Facebook Live
Before the widespread use of Pap tests, cervical cancer was the leading cause of cancer deaths for women in the United States. Now, there are even more ways women can lower their risk and screening makes it possible to catch the disease in its earliest stages when it can be cured.
Kimberly L. Levinson, MD, MPH, Director, Johns Hopkins Gynecologic Oncology at GBMC, shared the steps women should take to lower their risk of cervical cancer and how HPV (human papillomavirus), which is the cause of 99% of cervical cancers, can also cause head and neck cancer in both men and women.
“HPV is a sexually transmitted infection and pretty much everyone who is sexually active will have the virus at some point,” explained Dr. Levinson. “In most people, the virus clears (goes away) on its own. But in some people, it remains active, causing changes in the cells of the cervix that can lead to cancer if left undetected and untreated. Our goal is to catch these changes early with the Pap and HPV screening tests.”
Dr. Levinson said that the reason these screening tests are so important is that cervical cancer usually does not cause any symptoms in its early stages. In addition to regular screening starting at age 21, both women and men should be vaccinated against HPV. The vaccination can be done as young as 9 all the way up to age 45. The vaccine not only protects against cervical, penile, and head and neck cancer, it also protects against the strain of HPV that causes genital warts.
“While some parents hesitate to vaccinate their children against HPV because they’re uncomfortable that the virus is sexually transmitted, they shouldn’t think about this as a ‘sex vaccine.’ It’s a cancer vaccine,” said Dr. Levinson.