St. Louis Women Do Not Protect Themselves From Cervical Cancer

2009-03-26 14:21

When it comes to cervical cancer, many St. Louis women are not accessing the tools available to protect themselves from this preventable disease, according to recent survey findings released by the National Women's Health Resource Center (NWHRC), a non-profit organization dedicated to providing health education to women. The survey shows that while many St. Louis women are aware of important prevention tools like the HPV vaccine, the Pap test and the HPV test, they are missing the annual physician visits where they could receive these technologies.

In fact, although most (83 percent) think the exams are "extremely important" or "very important," nearly half (45 percent) of those surveyed had not had a gynecologic/pelvic exam in the past year.

The survey explored women's awareness of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, and the tools to prevent the disease, including the Pap test, the HPV test and the HPV vaccine. A Pap test detects abnormal cells caused by HPV that can lead to cervical cancer, while the HPV test checks for high-risk strains of the virus itself—identifying women most at risk for developing cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine protects against the two 'high-risk' types of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers. Key findings include:

* Seventy-seven percent of St. Louis women surveyed have seen or read about HPV and most (73 percent) recognized that cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Three quarters (75 percent) of St. Louis women surveyed were aware of the HPV vaccine.

* While half (50 percent) of women surveyed have seen or read about the HPV test, only 9 percent of women reported getting the HPV test. The HPV test is recommended along with a Pap test for women 30 and older, because HPV infections are more likely to be persistent at this age, and therefore more likely to increase a woman's risk for cervical cancer. The test may also be used in women under 30 as a follow-up to an inconclusive Pap test.

* Despite many women being aware of the HPV vaccine, the Pap test and the HPV test, women are still unclear about what tools are appropriate for their age group.

* Many falsely believed that the Pap test looks for conditions such as ovarian cancer (45 percent), sexually transmitted diseases (41 percent) and pregnancy (10 percent).

"These survey results seem to indicate that St. Louis women may not be getting the regular gynecologic care they need to protect themselves from cervical cancer, which is virtually preventable with the Pap test, HPV test and HPV vaccine," says Elizabeth Battaglino Cahill, R.N., executive director of NWHRC. "We believe more work is needed to educate women in the St. Louis area about cervical cancer prevention so that they will be proactive about their health and speak to their healthcare professional about which cervical cancer prevention tools are best for them." NWHRC is conducting cervical cancer awareness surveys in several U.S. cities.

Getting the Facts Straight About Cervical Cancer and Cervical Cancer Prevention

Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer that strikes women today. In the United States, cervical cancer affected more than 11,000 women in 2008 and killed nearly 4,000. Cervical cancer has a single known cause—the human papillomavirus (HPV)—which infects approximately 80 percent of all women at some point in their lifetimes. In the majority of women, the virus goes away or is suppressed by the body before it causes any problems. Routine HPV testing has been FDA-approved for use with a Pap test in women age 30 and older. Together, Pap and HPV tests help make sure abnormal cells are diagnosed and treated early. Additionally, an HPV vaccine has been FDA-approved for girls and young women ages 9-26, which is the age group that was studied in clinical trials. While the vaccine offers protection against 70 percent of cervical cancers, it does not provide complete protection against all strains of high-risk HPV. Women who are vaccinated should still get screened as appropriate.

"We now have the incredible opportunity to stop cervical cancer," says Dr. Carlton Pearse from Women's Health Care Inc. in Chesterfield and O'Fallon, Mo. "With tools such as the Pap test, HPV test and HPV vaccine, there is no reason why any woman should die from cervical cancer today." Women's Health Care Inc. provides comprehensive care for all the stages of a woman's life—from the first gynecology exam, through pregnancy, to menopause and beyond. The medical practice offers a combination of cervical cancer prevention tools, including Pap testing, HPV screening and HPV vaccination—depending on a woman's age.

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