By Tina Ray/ParaglideJanuary 21, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Of all the types of cancer, cervical cancer is the only one with an anticancer vaccine available in medicine right now. In other words, it is the most preventable.
Those two vaccines - Gardasil and cervarix - are both available through Womack Army Medical Center.
About 13,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year, with about 4,000 patients losing their lives to the disease, often marked by a malignancy associated with the human papilloma virus, said Col. Michael J. Sundborg, department chief and staff gynecologic oncologist, U.S. Army Medical Corps.
HPV can cause cervical cancer, which can be prevented by screening through pap smears, said Sundborg, who practices at WAMC. Pap test surveillance should begin at age 21, he said.
"The ones who are at risk are the ones who don't get their pap smears. It's not a perfect test, but it's used perfectly," Sundborg said.
A pap smear should be performed every one to two years for women ages 21 to 30. Women younger than 21 don't routinely have pap smears, with the rate of cervical cancer being 1.7 per 100,000 women of that age group.
Women of at least age 30, and who have had three consecutive normal pap tests should get a pap every three years.
Gardasil, an HPV vaccine, is now available for girls and women ages 9 to 26.
The ideal time to get the vaccine - a series of three shots at 1, 3 and 6 months - is about 11 years old, said Sundborg. It is best administered before the girl or young woman becomes sexually active. Gardisil also prevents genital warts, an HPV subtype, that cannot lead to cervical cancer.
Often there are no significant symptoms with HPV. But the virus can cause dysplasia, or abnormalities.
Symptoms present when cervical cancer presents and include abnormal bleeding, bleeding after intercourse, abnormal vaginal discharge and severe pelvic pain.
While the majority of the population tends to think that cervical cancer is germaine to women only, men are also at risk of also developing the disease.
WAMC also offers another treatment option, the cervarix vaccine. Both Gardasil and cervarix protect against HPV subtypes and are nearly 100 percent effective in preventing pre-cancer changes and cancers, Sundborg said.
"To have cervical cancer is a true tragedy in the U.S. because it's truly preventable," he said.
For more information about any screenings or treatment at WAMC, visit its website at www.wamc.amedd.army.mil/.