If you knew how to prevent more than 4,000 women from dying from cancer this year, would you take action? By the end of this post, you’ll know the answer. And this post is not just for women — men, I urge you to read this so you can be educated enough to make sure the women in your life (that means wives, DAUGHTERS, mothers, aunts, sisters, yes, even grandmothers, best friends — any woman in your life) are following the new health guidelines for screening and preventing cervical cancer.
January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and the Pearl of Wisdom Campaign to Prevent Cervical Cancer is helping spread the word via a web site and pearl pins it hopes women will buy and give to their friends as a way to open conversation and as a reminder of the steps needed to screen for and prevent cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women worldwide. In the U.S., the American Cancer Society estimated that in 2009, 11,270 women would be diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,070 women would die of the disease. Many more women will lose their fertility or experience pregnancy complications as a result of treatment for cervical cancer or cervical disease.
High-risk strains of a very common sexually transmitted infection called human papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical cancer. And if think you have never been exposed or never will be exposed to this, keep in mind that the Pearl of Wisdom Campaign says that 3 out of every 4 adults have had HPV at some time in their lives and the Centers for Disease Control say, “Approximately 20 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. Another 6 million people become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that at least 50% of sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.” Everywhere I’ve researched the number, it has ranged between 50-80% of the population being infected with HPV at some point in time.
There are hundreds of strains of HPV, about 40 of which cause forms of cancer (include cervical, oral and anal cancer), and MOST forms of HPV are asymptomatic to the naked eye. In other words, most people are completely unaware they’ve ever been infected. Most HPV infections heal on their own, but some do not and cause cells on a woman’s cervix to change and become abnormal. This can cause cervical dysplasia, and if allowed to continue to change, may cause cervical cancer.
However, with proper screening, cervical cancer can be prevented. And the Pearl of Wisdom people also say vaccination is part of the solution — which I will treat separately in this post.
Screening: Pap Test AND HPV Test
The highest form of routine screening for cervical cancer is a Pap Test AND an HPV Test. A Pap test only looks for abnormal cells, so a woman can get a “normal” Pap test while an HPV Test can reveal that there is HPV present. If your HPV test is positive, it does not mean you have abnormal cells or cervical cancer. It just means that you have HPV and that your healthcare provider will want to follow you more closely to see if that HPV infection clears on its own, or develops into abnormal cells.
Although both tests combined is the most cautious way to screen, recent guidelines came out from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that recommends Pap tests for women ages 21 to 29 every other year and then Pap test and the HPV test for women 30 and older every three years. The reason for waiting until after age 30 for adding the HPV test has to do with avoiding overly aggressive treatment of HPV infections that may clear on their own at a period of time in a woman’s life when the treatments — which can lead to infertility — may do more harm than good, based on what I understood from a conference call with Dr. Marie Savard, ABC News medical contributor and author of “Ask Dr. Marie: Straight Talk and Reassuring Answers to Your Most Private Questions.” She has an article on the topic here.
The Pap test and HPV test are done at the same time from the same sample if you do a liquid (“thin prep”) Pap test, so do request it at the time of your scheduled Pap test.
Preventing HPV at the Source
Okay — I’ll admit that when I first started my blog, the following sentences were not part of what I envisioned I’d be saying, but it is information you need to know: HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact. Which means that it does not necessarily require intercourse. And that a condom does not necessarily prevent it because surrounding skin may carry the virus.
I am not anti-vaccine, nor am I the type of a parent to automatically follow the vaccination protocol without question. I research things and I am a bit leery of relatively new vaccines. With all the commercials for Gardasil, I did not understand why this vaccine was practically being crammed down the public’s throats and why at such a young age for girls. After talking to the Pearl of Wisdom people (who are a non-profit group, not a front for a vaccine company) and Dr. Marie, I am understanding it a little more, although I have not made a personal decision on where I stand on the cervical cancer vaccines yet. There are two now — Gardasil, which vaccinates against four types of HPV and Cervarix, which vaccinates against two — each of them vaccinate against the two most common types of high-risk HPV, 16 and 18, which are said to cause about 70% of all cervical cancers. HPV vaccinations are approved for girls as young as age 9 up to women age 26 (according to the Gardasil site). Because the vaccines do not prevent ALL high-risk HPV infections, they do not completely eliminate the risk of cervical cancer, and so these girls/women should still be screened to prevent cancer.
Vaccines are always a hot topic of debate. I recommend researching the pros and cons for yourself when making the decision about whether to vaccinate your daughter as this particular vaccine has generated a lot of passion online. Neither just take your doctor’s word nor fall for scare tactics — read, research and come up with a decision you are comfortable with.
What You Can Do
The Pearl of Wisdom Campaign to Prevent Cervical Cancer is trying to reach at least 4070 women (the number of women estimated to die of cervical cancer in 2009) this month and get them to the take the Pearl Pledge. It’s really easy:
- Call and make your appointment for your routine screening — if you are a man, remind the important women in your life to make that appointment
- Go to: http://www.pearlofwisdom.us/pledge and check off “I’ve made my appointment!”
- Email a reminder to 5 friends to do the same
- Wear a pearl – earrings, necklace, whatever you have! Or buy one (proceeds support the campaign) from the Pearl of Wisdom campaign.
Are you ready to take action? Let me know by commenting below.
Giveaway! The Pearl of Wisdom Campaign is providing 5 pearl pins to my readers — I’ll select the readers from those who comment through midnight January 22, 2010 ET and use random.org to help me choose the winners. To be eligible, you will need to provide your email address so I may contact you to let you know you are the winner and get your snail mail address so they can send you your pin.
Disclosures : I am not a doctor nor do I have a medical background. Any medical information should be discussed with your doctor, I relied on information provided by the Pearl of Wisdom Campaign, Dr. Marie Savard, the Centers for Disease Control, Gardasil, Cervarix and/or their web sites and reported it to the best of my layman’s understanding. Your specific health should be discussed with your personal doctor. As part of participating in an informational conference call with Dr. Marie Savard and the Pass the Pearl Campaign representatives, I received a copy of her book for more background information — which I found informative and useful, but did not impact my decision to write this post or what to write. I have linked to her book using my blog’s Amazon Associates link. Purchases made through Amazon affiliate links on this blog yield a small referral fee. This applies to all purchases made on Amazon regardless of whether the product the consumer purchased was mentioned by me or not. The consumer’s purchases are confidential; I don’t know who has purchased items using my blog’s Amazon Associate links.