Dispelling Cervical Cancer Myths

George Orwell once said that “myths that are believed in tend to be true.” In today’s society, everywhere you look there are myths and misconceptions about a variety of topics. So in honor of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month in January, we are tackling the topic of cervical cancer myths in order to set the record straight.

Top 5 Cervical Cancer Myths

Myth #1: Cervical cancer can’t be treated.

According to Dr. Ronald Schonwetter, chief medical officer at Chapters Health System, if detected and diagnosed early, cervical cancer can be treated effectively. Thus, it is very important to have routine preventive screenings even if no symptoms are present.

cervical cancer mythsMyth #2: Older women don’t need Pap smears.

All women, who are 21 years or older, need periodic and regular Pap smears until the age of 65. After that age, women should discuss with their physicians the risks and benefits of ongoing screening based on their specific circumstances.

Myth #3: The Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is not common.

HPV is common and the most important risk factor for developing cervical cancer. It is transmitted via skin-to-skin contact and bodily fluids. It is estimated that approximately 80 percent of Americans will contract HPV sometime during their lifetime. Oftentimes, people don’t experience any HPV symptoms, such as visible genital warts, and thus may never know they had/have HPV. Women learn that they contracted HPV when their screening test comes back positive. An abnormal Pap test can be related to HPV, but many times physicians don’t relay this information to their female patients. Therefore, many women do not know or understand the link between HPV and cervical cancer and hence the development of the cervical cancer myth.

Researchers Ian Frazer and Jian Zhou at the University of Queensland first developed a vaccine to prevent HPV in 1991. It was then patented in the United States, and introduced as a tactic to combat HPV spread by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Today the CDC recommends that the vaccine be given to preteen girls and boys at age 11 or 12. The reasoning behind this recommendation is that these children will be protected before ever being exposed to HPV. This vaccine is actually a series of two vaccines given six to 12 months apart. If given over age 14, three shots are needed over a six-month period.

Myth #4: Women with cervical cancer can’t have children.

When a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer, the typical treatment regimen is a hysterectomy and/or chemotherapy and radiation and so this cervical cancer myth was born. However, there are newer options that can still allow a woman to have children if the cervical cancer is caught at an early stage and she is at low risk. For instance, conservative surgery’s primary aim is fertility preservation. Nevertheless, if the treatment course is chemotherapy and/or radiation, women are encouraged to freeze eggs, and even embryos, before they start treatment.

Myth #5: Cervical cancer runs in families.

Most people know that breast cancer and ovarian cancer have a hereditary component. The same is not true with cervical cancer. A mother or sister with cervical cancer does not increase a woman’s chance of developing this disease unless there is a family tendency to inherit the inability to fight off HPV infections.

At Chapters Health System and its affiliatesGood Shepherd Hospice, HPH Hospice and LifePath Hospice, every day is devoted to educating our patients and keeping them in the place they call home. We are dedicated to ensuring that patients, young and old alike, and their families are able to make educated decisions about important healthcare matters. For more information, please call our helpful Chapters Health team at 1.866.204.8611 or send an email to info@chaptershealth.org

About Phoebe Ochman

Phoebe Ochman, Director of Corporate Communications for Chapters Health System, manages all content and communications for the not-for-profit organization.

Latest Cervical Cancer Statistics

With the designation of January as cervical cancer month, awareness of this form of cancer has grown significantly over the past 20 years. How so? It is due in large part to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, whose mission is to help women, family members and caregivers battle the personal issues related to cervical cancer and promote prevention through community education.  

Years ago, cervical cancer was one of the most common types of cancer that resulted in death for women in the United States. With the advent and increase in usage of Pap tests, the cervical cancer death rate decreased dramatically due to much earlier diagnoses.

How has this screening test helped? Before cancer even starts to develop in the cervix, a Pap test can recognize subtle changes. And if cervical cancer has started to evolve, this screening test identifies the change earlier on, when it’s easier to treat and cure.  In 1971 when President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act and introduced the federal mandate “war on cancer,” the five-year survival rate for women with Stage 0 cervical cancer was less than 50 percent compared to a 93 percent five-year survival rate today.

In 2018, the American Cancer Society estimated 13,240 new cases of invasive cervical cancer would be diagnosed and about 4,170 women would die from cervical cancer in the United States. Today, cervical pre-cancer is identified more often than the invasive form of cervical cancer.

Who is At Risk?

If you are a woman between the ages of 35 and 54, you are most at risk for developing cervical cancer. It is rare in women younger than 20. Nevertheless, older women need to understand that they aren’t without risk as well. In fact, the rate of new cases of cervical cancer in women over the age of 65 is almost 20 percent of all new cases diagnosed. In looking at ethnicity, Hispanic women are the population with the highest rates of cervical cancer. They are followed by African Americans, Caucasians and Asians.

There are several factors that can increase a woman’s risk in developing cervical cancer.

Risk factors are:

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV): Over the last couple of years, there has been an increase in spreading the word about this most important risk factor for cervical cancer. Some individuals who are not able to rid their body of HPV develop a chronic infection, which greatly increases their risk of developing cervical cancer.
  • Chlamydia: This common bacterial infection gravitates to a woman’s reproductive organs. Like HPV, this infection is spread via sexual contact and most women do not experience any symptoms. According to a study published in JAMA, research confirmed a high risk of cervical cancer in women who had past or current chlamydia infections, which were then verified by blood tests and cervical mucus.
  • Weak immune system: As with other forms of cancer, a weak immune system puts individuals at high risk due to the fact that the body isn’t able to destroy or slow the growth and spread of cancer cells or infections such as HPV.
  • Smoking: Any woman who smokes tobacco puts herself at almost double the risk of developing cervical cancer. Studies have demonstrated that the by-products of tobacco damage the DNA in the cervix. Smoking also can weaken the immune system in fighting HPV infections.

 

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