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WMAR Facebook Live - Cervical Cancer Discussion

February 24, 2021
Cervical cancer used to be the most common cause of cancer death for women. But, thanks to the introduction of regular Pap testing, which finds the abnormal cells when they’re pre-cancerous and more likely to respond to treatment, the number of cases and deaths has declined significantly in the past 40 years. Fong Liu, MD, a gynecological oncologist at GBMC and assistant professor at John’s Hopkins, talked with Ashley James, anchor of Good Morning Maryland, about human papillomavirus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer, how to decrease your risk of getting HPV, and important signs and symptoms of cervical cancer to watch out for.

“HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection with over 200 different subtypes,” said Dr. Liu. “Both men and women can become infected with HPV. These infections can lead to some very serious consequences, including several types of cancer, if you’re not seeing your doctor regularly and getting screened.”

Some warning signs of cervical cancer include abnormal bleeding, bleeding after vaginal intercourse, abnormal or foul-smelling discharge, pelvic pain, and changes to urinary and bowel movement habits.

The best ways to prevent HPV infections are getting the HPV vaccine and undergoing regular sexual health screenings that include HPV testing starting at age 21. Boys and girls can start receiving the HPV vaccination as early as age nine, with the recommended age for vaccination being between 11 and 12. People up to age 45 can receive an HPV vaccine, and you can still get vaccinated even if you have an HPV infection. The vaccine can protect you against other types of HPV you haven’t yet been exposed to.

It is always best to catch and treat HPV infections early because, once they develop into cancer, they become more difficult to treat. Dr. Liu encourages women to speak openly with their doctors about their sexual health concerns.

“Seeing your physician and educating yourself about your body is one of the pillars of self-care,” Dr. Liu said. “If we talk about sexually transmitted infections more and normalize them as part of your screenings to keep yourself healthy, we can destigmatize them over time.”
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