A Banner Publication
October 12, 2006 – No. 2
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There will be approximately 9,710 new cases of invasive cervical cancer in the U.S. in 2006, according to the American Cancer Society. Cervical cancer is most prevalent among Hispanic women who develop the disease at twice the rate of non-Hispanic white women. African American women develop the disease about 50 percent more often than non-Hispanic white women. A total of about 3,700 women will die from this disease in 2006, yet medical professionals are eager to point out that, when found and treated early, cervical cancer can often be cured.

Cervical cancer affects the cervix, the lower part of a woman’s uterus. It is caused primarily by certain types of sexually transmitted viruses known as HPVs (human papillomavirus).

There are three general ways to prevent this disease:

  • The first is to avoid risk factors. Quitting smoking, for instance, or preventing the infection of HPV are two examples. Women of all ages can protect against HPV by having few sexual partners and not having sex with people who have had many partners. It is not always possible to identify people with HPV, as the virus does not always produce warts or other visible symptoms. Also, condoms, though useful for protecting against HIV and other diseases, do not fully protect against HPV.

  • A second way is to receive the vaccine Gardasil™, which was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration to protect against contracting certain HPVs. The vaccine works only if it is given before infection occurs. Since HPV can be transmitted through sexual intercourse, the vaccine is being marketed for girls and women age 9 to 26, before they begin having sex. People interested in the vaccine should check with their health plan to see if the vaccine will be covered by their insurance. For instance, members of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts receive coverage for Gardasil™ as a medical benefit.

  • A third way to prevent cervical cancer from becoming life threatening is to have a Pap test. This test can detect HPV and the pre-cancer cells and allow for treatment before cervical cancer develops.

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