By Emily Brainard, Army Flier Staff WriterJanuary 15, 2010
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, and medical officials stress the importance of routine pap smears and prevention practices to reduce cervical cancer occurrences.
Lyster Army Health Clinic providers follow new American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommendations, released in November for pap smear screenings, according to LAHC GYN Nurse Practitioner Deborah Delk.
ACOG information states women should begin receiving pap smears at age 21. Until age 30, these should be conducted every two years. Women over 30, with three consecutive normal pap smears, should be screened every three years. Those 65-70 should forgo the tests as long as their pap smear results have been normal for 10 years. ACOG members advocate annual gynecological exams for females of all ages.
Per 100,000 people, 3.5 Alabamians are diagnosed with cervical cancer, Delk said. This is above the national average of 2.4, based off 2005 statistics.
Six out of 10 cervical cancer cases occur in women who have never received pap smears or haven't had one within the past five years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, www.cdc.gov.
In order to reduce these numbers, civilians and Soldiers must be vigilant in caring for themselves. Female servicemembers require routine screenings so they can remain focused on their military duties, Delk said.
"There are some long deployments and remote assignments where annual cervical cancer screening(s) may not be readily available. By having regular pap smear screenings (here), we can determine if a woman is at low enough risk for cervical cancer to allow her to be assigned to these remote areas," Delk said.
Pap smears are only part of the prevention process. Patients should educate themselves on the origins of cervical cancer and other ways to reduce their risks.
This type of cancer can be caused by the human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted infection. HPV can remain dormant for years in those who contract it, according to information posted on the CDC Web site. Both men and women can carry HPV and may not realize they are infected because symptoms, such as genital warts, are not always present. Only a few of the many HPV strains actually cause cervical cancer.
Besides routine screenings, both men and women can reduce their risk of contracting HPV by keeping their number of sexual partners to a minimum and remaining in stable, mutually monogamous relationships, Delk noted.
Using condoms during intercourse also helps protect against the disease. She suggests women delay engaging in sexual activity until after age 18 to ensure complete maturation of the cervix.
Delk also recommends girls and women, ages 9 to 26, consider vaccinating against certain HPV strains. It guards against the two that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases - types 16 and 18 - and types, 6 and 11, which cause 90 percent of genital warts incidents. The three-part vaccine is available at the LAHC immunization clinic by calling 255-7754.
Delk said LAHC staff educates patients on this procedure during annual exams. Literature on the vaccinations and other prevention methods are available throughout the clinic.
Other ways to decrease cancer risks include a healthy lifestyle involving physical exercise, nutritious diet and maintaining a healthy weight. An American Cancer Society article at www.cancer.org
noted consuming ample fruits and vegetables reduce women's risks of developing cervical cancer.
Delk advocates education and prevention as ways to decrease cancer and disease, and hopes the public becomes more aware of cervical cancer and HPV this month through the campaign.
"More and more research is being done on HPV and its association with cervical (and other) cancers," she said. "Each year, we get closer to understanding how to prevent and treat this virus and the cancers associated with it, but we still have a long way to go. We all need to remember that HPV affects men as well as women."
HPV: Screenings save lives--know the facts
* Early detection saves lives. Officials recommend vaccinating early, and regular pap and HPV tests.
* HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. It is common in all sexually active people.
* At least 70 percent of sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives. HPV is most common in young men and women who are in their late teens and early 20s.
* The CDC estimates that there are 6.2 million new infections each year in the United States.
*Most men and women do not know when they are infected with HPV. There are usually no symptoms.
* Men and women are more likely to get HPV if they smoke, start having sex at a young age or have had many sex partners or their partners have had many sex partners.
Statistics outline need for awareness
* Some studies suggest that about 15 percent of men and women between the ages of 15 and 49 are currently infected with genital HPV.
* In the U.S., about 10,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and about 3,700 women die annually from this disease.
* Women, especially young ones, have the highest levels of known HPV infections.
* An average of 14 percent of American female college students get infected with genital HPV each year.
* An average of 28 to 46 percent of women under the age of 25 are infected with genital HPV.
* On average, 60 percent of HIV-negative gay or bisexual men have genital HPV.
* About 26 percent of HIV-negative women have genital HPV.
* On average, 70 percent of HIV-positive women with severely compromised immune systems test positive for genital HPV.
* There are about 30 different types of HPV that can cause a genital HPV infection.
* HPV-16 is the cause of more than 50 percent of cervical cancers in women.
* Cervical cancer is the first cancer in women known to be caused by a virus.
* If a genital HPV infection is persistent after the age of 30 in a woman, there is a greater risk she will develop cervical cancer.
* The average HPV test can find up to 13 strains of the virus that can cause cancer in women.
* There is no clinical way to test for genital HPV in men unless the man already has signs of the infection. A visual inspection is usually the only way to determine the severity of the outbreak.
* The human immune system remembers a certain HPV strain, which means it's possible to become immune to a certain type of HPV. However, there are many different strains, so just because a person is immune to one strain doesn't mean the individual will not be infected with other strains of HPV.
* Of the more than 100 strains of HPV, about 60 HPV types cause warts on non-genital skin, such as on the hands and feet. These are the common warts.
* Almost all (more than 99 percent) cervical cancers are related to HPV. Of these, about 70 percent are caused by HPV types 16 or 18.
Sources: text www.cervicalcancer.org/hpvstatistics.html, www.cancer.org, www.nccc-online.org