Cervical cancer, a malignancy that develops in tissues of the cervix, is usually caused by certain types of the human papilloma virus (HPV) virus, contracted through intimate contact. Once a woman develops invasive cervical cancer, the treatment is surgery, radiation therapy or a combination of the two, but there are options to prevent it.
Sexual abstinence is one way, but when that isn’t practical, women between the ages of 9 and 26 can opt for a series of three injections of the Gardasil vaccine given over a period of six months.
“The vaccine has been very successful,” says Dr. Lisa Gold, a pediatrician at North Point Pediatrics in Crown Point. “It offers 100 percent protection from 70 percent of the strains that cause cervical cancer.”
According to Gold, cervical cancer is hard to detect as the symptoms are rare.
“The Gardasil vaccine also prevents genital warts,” said Gold, adding that the side effects of the vaccine are minimal though they could include soreness around the injection site and fainting shortly after an injection. “That’s why we have our patients remain in the exam room for 15 minutes.”
Dr. Margaret Lewin, medical director of Cinergy Health, a nationwide provider of innovative and affordable health and life insurance solutions, notes that about 20 million Americans between the ages of 15 and 50 carry the virus and at least half of all sexually active Americans contract HPV during their lifetimes.
“There are more than 100 types of HPV, of which more than a dozen, termed high-risk types can cause cervical cancer,” Lewin says. “Other types of the virus can cause venereal warts, which occur on the areas of contact. Most often, a person’s immune system kills off the virus without intervention. In women who smoke or whose immune system is impaired, however, exposure to high-risk types of HPV is more likely to lead to cancerous changes of the cervix.”
Gold recommends that patients should get vaccinated before they become sexually active as the most effective way to prevent contracting the virus but that doesn’t preclude those who are already sexually active from getting the vaccine.
And she says there is a new vaccine on the market that protects again two common strains of HPV but offers no protection from genital warts, which is why she recommends the Gardasil vaccine.
The Gardasil vaccine isn’t only for women.
Gold says that the vaccine has received approval to be given to men for preventing HPV.
“Eighty percent of parents are saying yes to the vaccine for the daughters,” says Gold, recommending that people who are interested should talk to their doctors about the vaccine.