Knowing the Signs of Cervical Cancer Can Improve Outcomes

January 5, 2023 | Carenet Health

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and early detection is critical to increasing the chance of survival through successful treatment. Once a leading cause of cancer deaths for women, modern developments in screening and prevention have drastically reduced mortality rates related to cervical cancer. Nonetheless, approximately 14,100 new cases and an estimated 4,280 deaths of cervical cancer were reported in 2022. Due to the prevalence of this form of cancer, providers need to ensure patients keep up with recommended screenings.

Ready to learn more on how to engage patients to take an active role in their  care? Download theHealth Awareness Playbook now.

Cervical Cancer Causes and Detection

All women can develop cervical cancer, and the main cause is long-lasting infections from certain variants of human papillomavirus (HPV). At least half of sexually active people will get HPV at some point of their lives, but not all women will develop cervical cancer as a result.

However, the early stages of this form of cancer frequently do not have any symptoms and outcomes can worsen if cervical cancer goes undetected and untreated for a long time, which is why it’s important for women to receive annual screenings starting at age 21. If test results are normal, patients may be able to wait three years between tests. Patients older than 65 may not need to be screened anymore if they have had normal test results for several years.

The two main tests for finding cervical cancer are the HPV test and the Papanicolaou (Pap) smear. The Pap test looks for precancerous cell changes on the cervix that may turn into cervical cancer if left untreated. Because HPV is often responsible for these cell changes, the HPV test detects the virus. In the case of abnormal results, it’s crucial to follow up with a doctor because treatment can prevent cervical cancer from developing.

Cervical Cancer Prevention

In addition to regular screenings, vaccination for HPV can prevent infections that cause cervical cancer. A recent study investigated the types of HPV infections in 12,514 women ages 15-45 and discovered that the seven subtypes of the virus targeted by the Gardasil 9 vaccine encompassed 91 percent of the most advanced cervical precancers. This means Gardasil 9 could prevent approximately 90 percent of cases of cervical cancer, in addition to the majority of precancerous lesions.

Unfortunately, there is a lack of public awareness about HPV vaccinations in the U.S. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccination for girls and boys ages 11 to 12, many pediatricians and primary care physicians may not communicate about the vaccine in a way that encourages parents to take action.  

Providers’ Role in Cervical Cancer Prevention

Doctors have a key opportunity to provide accurate information about HPV vaccinations and cervical cancer screenings to help keep their patient populations safe, especially in guarding young adults from HPV-related cancers. Everyone under the age of 26 is eligible for the HPV vaccine, and providers can educate patients on the importance of vaccination as a cervical cancer prevention tool. Through their healthcare communication strategies, doctors can also encourage female patients to stay up to date with cervical cancer screenings.

Ready to learn more on how to engage patients to take an active role in their care? Download the Health Awareness Playbook now.

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