Although 9.6 million people die from cancer every year, we now know that at least one third of common cancers are preventable. Each year on February 4th, World Cancer Day empowers people by increasing access to information and knowledge about cancer and increasing awareness on how to prevent cancer and reduce risk.
Cervical cancer is one of the most highly preventable cancers. However, in 2017, an estimated 1550 Canadian women were diagnosed with cervical cancer and sadly 400 women died from it, making cervical cancer the 4th most common reproductive cancer in Canadian women today.
Cervical cancer is a malignant tumour that starts in the cells of the cervix. Malignant means that it can spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body. Cells in the cervix sometimes change and no longer grow or behave normally. Changes to cells of the cervix can also cause precancerous conditions. This means that these cells are not yet cancer, but there is a chance that these abnormal cells might become cancerous if not treated. Most women with precancerous changes of the cervix are successfully treated and don’t develop cancer.
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The importance of PAP test
Most cervical cancers are diagnosed in women who have never been screened or have not been screened regularly. Screening is the only way to detect the early changes that might lead to cervical cancer. “I can’t emphasize enough how important is to have a PAP test”, says Dr. Brown. In Ontario, PAP tests are recommended at the age of 21, if the individual has ever been sexually active. If the test is normal, then screening should be done every three years.
HPV and cervical cancer can be prevented
The main risk factor for developing cervical cancer is being exposed to the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV) that can infect the cervix. Thus, another way to protect against cancer is to get vaccinated against HPV. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection with more than 40 types of HPV contracted through sexual intercourse, genital skin-to-skin contact and oral sex. And although most people who are exposed to HPV will clear the virus through the immune system response, persistent HPV, can lead to multiple cancers. These cancers affect both sexes and include the penis, vulva, vagina, cervix, rectum, anus and throat.
As for many other cancers, quitting smoking helps reduce your risk of cervical cancer as nicotine plays a role in the development of cervical cancer.
Although we are fortunate in Canada to have access to government-funded healthcare, there are millions of women in Canada who still do not get regular PAP tests and/or a HPV vaccination. We now immunize both boys and girls in the school system across the country, which is very important. But there is no age limit on exposure, no age limit for being vaccinated.
Prevention is the best way to reduce your chances of facing a serious illness. Speak with your Medisys physician and receive your PAP test during a Preventive Health Assessment. Consider your personal risk for HPV exposure and discuss the vaccine.
Australia, with high levels of vaccine use has announced that cervical cancer will no longer be a public health concern by 2024 as there are less and less cases. They will have effectively eradicated cervical cancer. Let’s make Canada the second country in the world to be able to make such an announcement. We have the tools, let us use them. Click here for more information or to book an appointment.
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