Niagara Gazette — In recognition of National Cervical Health Awareness Month, the Niagara County Department of Health Cancer Services Program urges women to talk to their doctors about getting screened for cervical cancer.
Any woman can get cervical cancer. It occurs more often in women over 30 years old. Women who are not screened, or have not been screened in a long time, could have cervical cancer and not know it. Cervical cancer is most often found in women who have not had a Pap test in more than five years, or have never had a Pap test. The Pap test (or Pap smear) is the main screening test for cervical cancer; Pap tests can identify cells on the cervix that may become cancerous. In the U.S., the Pap test has reduced cervical cancer rates by more than 70 percent.
Risk for cervical cancer depends on sexual history, status of the immune system, health and lifestyle. Certain factors increase a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer, including:
• Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection (HPV is a common virus that causes nearly all cervical cancer and can be passed from one person to another during sex)
• Age - the majority of cervical cancers occur in women over age 30
• Smoking- women who smoke are twice as likely as nonsmokers to develop cervical cancer;
Having HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, or another condition that makes it hard for the body to fight off health problems;
• Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth
• Personal history of pre-cancer of the cervix
Women can reduce their risk for developing cervical cancer by getting regular Pap tests, being immunized against HPV, and not smoking. Women who are sexually active can reduce their risk for HPV infection by using latex condoms during sex and limiting the number of sexual partners.
Females between the ages of 9 and 26, or parents of females under 18 can talk to their doctors about the HPV vaccine. The vaccine protects against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. It’s still important for women to continue to have a Pap test even if they’ve had the HPV vaccine because the vaccine is not 100 percent effective.
Uninsured women, ages 40 to 64 can contact the Cancer Services Program for guidance regarding free cervical cancer screening. Call 278-8285 for more information.Cheryl Licata is the outreach coordinator for the Cancer Services Program of Niagara County