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Teaming Up Against Cervical Cancer

September 3, 2013

Orginally published Jan. 09, 2012

Close to 100 percent of women diagnosed at the pre-cancer stage of cervical cancer survive—a remarkable number that should encourage all women to be routinely screened for this preventable disease. Unfortunately, an estimated 134 women in Georgia will still die this year from cervical cancer. This January, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and the American Cancer Society are teaming up in support of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.

According to the Georgia Comprehensive Cancer Registry in 2011, cervical cancer became the 12th most common cancer diagnosed in Georgia women. It is estimated that 410 women were newly diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2011.

All women are at risk for cervical cancer. In Georgia, cervical cancer risk increases greatly around age 30 and peaks in the 40-49 age group. After age 50, the risk appears to decrease, although not as sharply for African-American women who maintain a higher incidence than white women later in life. Moreover, women living in rural Georgia are at a greater risk of developing cervical cancer than women living in urban areas.

All women should receive annual Pap tests. This test can detect pre-cancerous cells and treatment can prevent these cells from developing into invasive cancer. According to the CDC, an astounding 86.6 percent of Georgia women age 18 and over reported having a regular Pap test in 2010.

“Routine Pap tests are the best way to help prevent cervical cancer,” said Joyce Slade, Director of the Department of Public Health Office of Cancer Screening and Treatment. “Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is the perfect time for women to become more aware of this issue and take preventative steps against cervical cancer.”

DPH encourages all women to have regular Pap tests, as the majority of cervical cancers (60 percent) occur in women who have never received a Pap test or have not been tested in the last five years. Cervical pre-cancers or early cervical cancers often have no signs or symptoms, so an annual screening is a woman’s best defense against this cancer. Treatment is most effective when the cancer is detected early.

DPH is committed to doing its part in reducing risk of cervical cancer on its citizens. Low or no-cost screening is available at local health departments though the Georgia Breast & Cervical Cancer Program’s (BCCP) BreasTEST & MORE to eligible uninsured and/or low-income women. In addition, women with abnormal screening results are referred for diagnostic and treatment services.

While yearly Pap tests are the best means of detecting cervical cancer at an early stage, vaccines have the potential to protect women from the disease by targeting the single known cause of cervical cancer—the human papillomavirus (HPV). Two forms of the virus, HPV 16 and HPV 18, account for more than 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases. Some medical experts believe that through a successful education, screening and vaccination program for women, we will have the potential to nearly eliminate cervical cancer in the United States.

“Gardasil is offered at all public health departments and is part of the Vaccine for Children program (VCF),” said Barbara Crane, Nurse Consultant for BCCP. “Gardasil may be administered through the VFC program for both boys and girls ages 9-18. For women being served through the Family Planning program, Gardasil may be initiated up to the age of 26.”

For more information about cervical cancer or the BreasTEST & MORE program in Georgia, please call your local American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345. Contact your local health department for more information on the HPV vaccine.