Doctors now believe that human papillomavirus, HPV, is the most common cause of cervical cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year 21,000 HPV-related cancers can be caught and treated early with proper testing. While HPV can cause cervical cancer, it can also create cancer cells in other areas of the male and female genitals.
Other risk factors include:
- Family history
- Diet low in fruits and vegetables
- Being overweight
- Being pregnant before age 17
- Immunosuppression, such as that which occurs with HIV or AIDS
- Long-term use of birth control pills and intrauterine devices (IUDs)
Cervical cancer is most treatable when caught early, in a stage doctors call “pre-cancer.” This stage shows that there are cancer cells in the cervix but they have not invaded the surface, which can cause the cancer to spread to other parts of the body.
The great news is that testing is much improved, which means early detection and prevention is better than ever! The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to get tested regularly, especially if you are sexually active.
Your doctor may perform a traditional Pap smear alone or in combination with an HPV test.
- A Pap smear is a test where doctors take a small bit of tissue from the cervix and have it tested in a lab for signs of cancerous cells.
- An HPV test can be done using the sample doctors collect from a Pap smear.
Denise Pinkney is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.