LAWTON, OK (KSWO)- Nearly 80 to 90 percent of women will carry the virus that causes cervical cancer at some point in their life. Researchers estimate about 12 thousand women will get cervical cancer each year. January is cervical awareness month, so we spoke with a radiation oncologist to find out what women and men should know about the importance of early detection and immunization of the disease.
According to Doctors, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer for women worldwide. And that's why congress designated the whole month of January to highlight important issues with the disease and ways to prevent it. Doctors say it's one of the few cancers that is easily prevented by a vaccine.
"The vaccine can be given as young as nine years of age. All children, male and female, should get the vaccine between the ages of 9 to 14. If they get this vaccine early at that age, it's just a two-vaccine series," explained Dr. Mary Smith, a Radiation Oncologist.
Radiation Oncologist Lee Ann Smith at the Cancer Centers of Southwest Oklahoma says the vaccine is to fight off the human papillomavirus, or HPV. It's the only known cause of cervical cancer and it's spread mostly through sexual intercourse. Dr. Smith says anything that prevents you from coming in contact with HPV would be recommended.
"Bury your protection when having sexual intercourse. That would mean trying to refrain from multiple sexual partners, or becoming sexually active at an older age," said Dr. Smith.
Dr. Smith says there are rarely any early symptoms of cervical cancer -- the obvious ones don't usually appear until the disease has progressed, but if a woman were to experience symptoms...
"Those would be an abnormal menstrual period, maybe heavy bleeding, some spotting in between periods, pelvic pain is another symptom. Pain with sexual intercourse is another symptom," Dr. Smith stated.
Dr. Smith says cervical cancer is very treatable if caught early. And that's why it's so important to get yearly pap smears to detect the disease.
"That's a test that you would go to any OBGYN doctor, as well as your family doctor can perform a pap smear. And that would be something that women need to start at the age of 21. They are recommended to get a pap smear every three years. It's a quick simple procedure that can happen in the doctor's office in just a few minutes," Dr. Smith explained.
There is also an HPV DNA test that can be performed. That can start at the age of 30, and that can be done every 5 years. While HPV is a known cause of cervical cancer in women, it doesn't mean that men shouldn't be vaccinated for the virus as well.
"Men can be contracted with HPV and so men can also have cancers that are caused from the HPV. And also they can harbor the HPV and they can pass it sexually to women," said Dr. Smith.
The most important issue with cervical cancer is preventing it and there are so many different available methods for prevention.
"This is one of those cancers that we actually have the vaccine. Nearly 100 percent of these cancers are caused because of a virus, and we have a vaccine against that virus. And so this is actually a cancer that we could wipe out if we were to get treated for it. If we were to start giving vaccinations to children both males and females," Dr. Smith stated.
Dr. Smith says around four thousand women die each year from cervical cancer. She says the average age that women contract it is age 40, but that any woman who is sexually active can have it. The major lesson in all of this is to be sure to visit your doctor often and never skip annual pap smears. And it's recommended that you get you and your child vaccinated to help stop the spread of HPV and prevent cervical cancer.
For MedWatch 7, I'm Makenzie Burk.