Observed in January of each year, National Cervical Health Awareness Month (formerly known as National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month) has a newly broadened scope. In addition to providing education about cervical cancer, this campaign also focuses on highlighting precancerous cervical conditions that require follow-up and treatment. When cancerous and precancerous changes in the cervix are detected early, women generally have a wide range of options for protecting their health. In fact, cervical cancer is one of the most preventable and successfully treatable types of cancer. The catch-22 is that it does not typically produce noticeable symptoms in its earliest, most treatable stages, and that preventive screenings are usually needed to detect cellular changes.
In many cases, an abnormal Pap test result is the first sign of the possible presence of precancerous or cancerous cells in a woman’s cervix. Therefore, it is important for every woman to be aware that a simple, routine Pap smear is the best defense against cervical cancer and other cervical conditions. Most experts recommend an annual Pap test beginning at age 18 for most women, and more frequent testing for women who have a heightened risk of developing cervical cancer. The primary known risk factor for cervical cancer is a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
Vaccination plays a key role in the prevention of many types of cancer, and the researchers and clinicians at Moffitt Cancer Center have explored the link between HPV and cervical cancer in depth. In December 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an eagerly awaited vaccine for adolescents that can protect against nine different types of HPV. This vaccine, which is known as Gardasil 9, is believed to have the potential to increase overall cervical cancer prevention from approximately 70 to 90 percent, thus practically eliminating this type of cancer.
A shining public health triumph, the HPV vaccine has been a bold-face headline for the advances achieved in cancer prevention over the last decade. Research to date confirms that the advent of Gardasil 9 has been instrumental in preventing cervical cancer. Through our work with the HPV vaccine, Moffitt has demonstrated expertise and success in transforming research breakthroughs on an infectious agent from bench to vaccine FDA licensure and, ultimately, to the general population. But, there is still work to be done. Despite the promise of Gardasil 9, vaccination rates continue to lag far behind those of other adolescent immunizations, which clearly illustrates that the medical community needs to do a better job of getting people vaccinated.
Moffitt is committed to raising awareness about cervical cancer and precancerous cervical conditions, and we’re continually redefining how these conditions can be prevented, diagnosed and treated. If you’d like to learn about the services available through our Gynecologic Oncology Program, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online. No referrals are required.