National organizations and local doctors want women to know that though cervical cancer is a devastating disease, modern medicine has made it easily detectable and preventable.
A press release from J.C. Blair Memorial Health System, Inc. in Huntingdon states that 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer annual, resulting in more than 4,000 deaths each year.
But preventative measures and regular screenings for the disease, called a Pap smear or Pap test, make it easy to combat.
Dr. Patrick Fiero, an obstetrician/gynecologist at J.C.?Blair Memorial Health System, Huntingdon, consults with a patient.
"We've seen an exponential drop in the disease because of increased screen-ing," said Dr. Patrick Fiero, an obstetrician/gynecologist at J.C. Blair.
Fiero recommends wo-men get a Pap smear every year. Since the invention of the Pap smear by Dr. George Papanicolaou in the 1940s, it has reduced the death rate from cervical cancer by 70 percent.
Fiero administers the first test for a young woman around age 18 or after first sexual contact - whichever comes first. Women between ages 35 and 55 are at the highest risk for developing cervical cancer, and getting it at a young age can decrease the capability to have children as well as contribute to other health problems later in life, Fiero said.
Facts about cervical cancer
12,000 women are diagnosed annually
Causes 4,000 deaths annually
Fourteenth most frequent cancer among women
The Pap smear has reduced the death rate by 70 percent
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is its main causen The Food and Drug Administration approved an HPV vaccine in 2006
The vaccine targets men and women ages 9 through 26 who have not yet been exposed to HPV
Source: J.C.?Blair Memorial Health System?Inc.
"It is something that kills, and it can be pretty devastating," he said. "So it's a big concern."
The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the largest known contributor to causing cervical cancer. A three-shot vaccine for HPV was approved in 2006 for both men and women. HPV is also the most common sexually transmitted disease in the country, according to the press release.
"Virtually anyone sexually active will get HPV some time in their life time," said Fred Wyand, the director of communications for the National Cervical Cancer Coalition based in Research Triangle Park, N.C. He added that HPV is not dangerous in most cases and is usually cleared away by the body, but should still be taken seriously because of its link to cancer.
The NCCC's goal is to provide education and support for cervical cancer patients and their families, Wyand said. the key component to their education efforts is getting the message out there that cervical cancer is "virtually always preventable," he added.
"It's the cancer that really never has to happen," he said.
Fiero said some common misconceptions about cervical cancer are that HPV can spread without intimate contact, and that cervical cancer is genetic.
"It is an environmental disorder," he said. "If a mom or a sister or a close relative had [cervical cancer], it's not the same risk as them having breast cancer or colon cancer."
But unprotected sex, having sexual relations at an early age, having multiple sexual partners, smoking and giving birth to more than three children all increase a woman's risk for cervical cancer, according to the press release.
Local visits to your physician or gynecologist are imperative to ensure that if a woman is at risk, the disease can be caught early and treated properly.
"It's something we need to drive home to women, that it's a very important aspect of women's healthcare,"?Dr. Fiero said.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.