According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the incidence of cervical cancer in Alabama is 8.7 women out of every 100,000 (which is higher than the national average of 8.1). This means that more than 200 women each year are diagnosed with cervical cancer in Alabama each year. Here are some quick facts about cervical cancer prevention and early detection.
· The primary risk factor for cervical cancer is infection with specific types of human papilloma virus (HPV). This virus is a sexually transmitted infection, and may go unnoticed in many women.
· Women who begin having sex at younger ages or have multiple sexual partners are at a greater risk for an HPV infection and for developing cervical cancer, although a woman with only one lifetime sexual partner may still become infected if her partner has been infected.
· Cervical cancer does not always develop with this infection, and depends on other factors, such as your immune system, the number of children you have, whether or not you smoke, and use of birth control pills.
· Seeing your gynecologist for routine Pap Tests is the best way to detect cervical cancer or changes in your cervix as early as possible.
· There are 2 vaccines available to children and adults ages 9-26. These are Gardasil and Cervarix. These vaccines can’t protect against HPV infections you have already, and they do not protect against all types of HPV, but do protect against the most common types associated with cervical cancer. These vaccines work best if given to children who have not yet begun having sex.
· There may be some genetic relationship between breast cancer and cervical cancer (particularly Bloom Syndrome and Peutze-Jeghers Syndrome). A genetic counselor and testing can help you to determine if there is an inherited risk for these diseases in your family.
· As of 2014, the Alabama Department of Public Health showed that only about 39% of adolescent girls and 21 % of adolescent boys were receiving the HPV vaccines, which is fairly low given the implications of HPV infections and cervical cancer.
· The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that the biggest reasons for not vaccinating were for girls: parents did not have enough knowledge about the vaccine; parents didn’t think the vaccine was needed; they had concerns about the safety of the vaccine; the doctor didn’t recommend the vaccine; or their child was not sexually active. For boys the reasons were: the vaccine was not recommended; the parents felt the vaccine was not necessary; the parents lacked knowledge about the vaccine; their child was not sexually active; or the parents were concerned about the safety of the vaccine.