Cervical Cancer and the HPV Vaccine: What You Need to Know

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Did you know that cervical cancer can be a preventable disease?

The month of January marks Cervical Cancer Screening Month – and the goal is to heighten awareness that cervical cancer can be prevented with an annual screening. St. Elizabeth Healthcare is proud to join other healthcare providers across the nation to encourage conversations about cervical cancer, the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and the HPV vaccine.

“It’s so important to get the knowledge out there,” says Dr. Robert Neff, Gynecologic Oncologist at St. Elizabeth. “This disease can truly be prevented with the appropriate precautions.”

Cervical Cancer: The Basics

Cervical cancer is a malignancy that affects the uterine cervix. The most common cervical cancer location is at the top of the vagina where the external portion of the cervix is visible.

According to the American Cancer Society*, about 13,170 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2019. It remains one of the deadliest cancers for American women.

The most common symptoms of cervical cancer include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding after intercourse
  • Pelvic pain

Other symptoms that could indicate more advanced disease include:

  • Back pain on one side
  • Pain radiating down one leg

If you’re considering postponing your annual exam, think twice – the screening could possibly save your life. Annual screenings are essential to cervical cancer prevention for women.

“Routine screening visits with your provider should include a visual pelvic exam and Pap test per recommended age guidelines,” says Dr. Neff. “These routine screenings decrease the risk of cervical cancer by over 90%. A majority of cervical cancer patients have never undergone any form of screening.”

Myth-Busting: Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Vaccine

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) causes the vast majority of cervical cancer. HPV is very common in both men and women – up to 80% of adults have had exposure to HPV at some point. There are almost 100 types of the HPV virus that can infect humans; the HPV vaccine helps to prevent the nine most common forms of the virus.

There are myths and misinformation surrounding the HPV vaccine. The experts at the St. Elizabeth Gynecologic Oncology department are on hand to weigh in on the facts as you consider getting the vaccine, either for yourself or a loved one:

  • The HPV vaccine protects patients from the likeliest cancer-causing strains of the virus.
  • Research shows that the HPV vaccine could help to eliminate nearly 90% of cervical cancer in the United States.
  • The HPV vaccine is the most effective way to prevent cervical cancer in future generations.
  • The HPV vaccine is approved for both males and females beginning at age nine, prior to any HPV exposure.
  • Both boys and girls should receive this vaccine, as males are often asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
  • The FDA has approved the vaccine up to age 45 and recommends it even for people who have been exposed to HPV in the past.
  • The HPV vaccine is made from a specific part of the virus and not capable of causing infection.
  • Vaccine side effects are limited to injection site reactions (redness or soreness).

“So much research has gone into vaccine safety and efficacy,” says Dr. Neff. “It’s important to note that there are no scientifically validated studies that show any association between the HPV vaccine and serious long-term side effects.”

If you would like to learn more about the HPV vaccine or cervical cancer screening, please contact your physician or schedule an appointment with one of our OBGYNs.