2010-01-08 / Columnists

SJEH Wellness Corner

Reducing Your Risk For Cervical Cancer
Commentary By Mohan Mahadkar, MD, Chairman, OB/GYN, SJEH

The United States Congress designated January as Cervical Health Awareness Month. It is a good time to review the steps that women can take to prevent this nearly 100 percent preventable disease.

The good news is that cervical cancer is preventable and curable if it is detected early; in fact, the occurrence of deaths from cervical cancer has declined significantly over the last 20 to 30 years, according to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition. Although cer vical cancer is almost completely preventable, a considerable number of new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed every year and women continue to die of the disease.

Cervical cancer rates are higher among older women; however, cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (or CIN), the precursor lesion to cervical cancer, most often occurs among younger women.

Screening younger women using the Papanicolaou (Pap) test is an important strategy that can actually prevent cervical cancer from developing almost 100 percent of the time.

Minority populations and persons of low socioeconomic status are affected disproportionately as well.

Many organizations, including the American Cancer Society, Na tional Can cer Institute, American College of Obstetricians and Gyne cologists, American Medical Associ ation, Amer ican Aca demy of Family Physicians, and others recommend that Pap testing should:

Begin three years after onset of sexual activity or at age 21;

Be given annually for women 50 and under;

For women over 50, testing may be done every two to three years after three consecutive normal Pap tests (unless DES exposed or immunosuppressed).

Women who are post-menopausal (change of life) still need to have regular Pap tests. However, women who have undergone a hysterectomy in which the cervix was removed do not require Pap testing, unless the hysterectomy was performed because of cervical cancer or its precursors.

Experts agree that infection with certain strains of the HPV is one of the strongest risk factors for cervical cancer. Pre-cancers of the cervix may be prevented by avoiding exposure to HPV. Certain types of sex may increase your risk of HPV. Some ways to reduce your risk of contracting HPV include: delaying sex until older; using condoms; don’t smoke; getting vaccinated against HPV. The vaccine, which is administered in three injections over a period of six months, is usually recommended for young women ages nine to 26 years of age. To be most effective, the vaccination is given before the on - set of sexual activity.

The St. John’s Episcopal Hospital De - partment of Obstetrics and Gyne cology strongly encourages women to have an annual gynecological exam and offers a wide range of diagnostic services, in - cluding regular PAP testing along with physical examinations, HPV vaccinations, a colposcopy program, and bone densitometry, as well as a wide range of treatment options.

To make an appointment at the Ob - stetrics/Gynecology Practice at the Am - bulatory Care Center, which accepts most insurances, please call 718-869- 7690. To make a private practice ap - pointment with a qualified obstetrician/ gynecologist at St. John’s, please call 718-869-7382.

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