Cervical cancer has known links to HPV

Cervical cancer has known links to HPV

Cervical cancer is the third most common gynecologic cancer.

In just the U.S., 12,000 new cases are diagnosed annually, and unfortunately, 4,000 patients die annually from this disease. Worldwide, cervical cancer represents a bigger health care problem and is considered the fourth most common malignancy in women.

Perhaps the most important characteristic of cervical cancer is the fact that the majority of the cases are caused by the viral infection Human Papilloma Virus or HPV. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that newly infects 6.2 million people every year.

By the age of 40, nearly 80 percent of women have been exposed to HPV. This is why the medical community is very interested in the possibility of eradicating this disease through prevention.

In the past decade, we’ve witnessed the emergence of the HPV prevention vaccine. At Marshall Health, we recommend the vaccine for females ages 9 to 26 and males ages 11 to 26.

Am I at risk of cervical cancer?

Multiple risk factors for cervical cancer have been identified, including:

  • Chronic exposure to HPV with multiple sexual partners
  • Early age of first sexual activity
  • Your body’s ability to fight off infections like HPV (with an immunosuppression, an HPV infection is more likely to persist and cause cervical cancer)
  • Smoking

Although there are no symptoms with most HPV infections, HPV is most likely diagnosed during a routine gynecological exam and pap smear. This is why we recommend every woman have an annual gynecological exam. If treated early, the HPV infection is unlikely to cause cervical cancer.

If untreated, an HPV infection, if persistent, first causes a premalignant lesion on the cervix and could progress into cancer.

Cervical cancer treatments

Once diagnosed, cervical cancer treatment varies based on the extent of the disease and its spread.

In cases where the cancer is confined to the cervix, a surgical treatment alone could lead to a cure. However, in more advanced situations, additional therapy with chemotherapy and radiation therapy might be required.

Many advances have been made in order to better individualize the surgical treatment of cervical cancer—from a fertility sparing approach to a more radical hysterectomy. These surgical treatments can now be performed with minimally-invasive techniques.

I can’t say it often enough that the best prevention for cervical cancer can be achieved through routine, regular visits to your gynecologist and the appropriate vaccination against HPV. With increased awareness and adequate actions, this disease could be eradicated for the future generations.

For more information or to schedule your annual gynecologic exam, contact Marshall Obstetrics & Gynecology at 304-691-1400..

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Nadim Bou Zgheib, MD, FACOG

Dr. Bou Zgheib is a board-certified gynecologic oncologist with Marshall Obstetrics & Gynecology, a department of Marshall Health, and the Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center and an assistant professor with the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine. He specializes in treating cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal and vulvar cancers and related robotic surgeries.