The fight against cervical cancer has come a long way, but too many women are still impacted by this highly preventable disease. This year, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) will begin a campaign to urge more women and girls to get vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes almost all cervical cancer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV is so common that nearly all sexually-active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives. Some will fight the infection naturally with no hospitalization or treatment required. But for many, the virus causes genital warts and several types of cancer, including cervical cancer. The CDC reports that about 12,000 women in the U.S. develop cervical cancer each year.
“Cervical cancer was once the leading cause of death for American women,” said Andrea Yeany, nurse consultant with DPH’s Office of Cancer Screening and Treatment.
Higher rates of screening and interventions like the HPV vaccine have lowered cervical cancer’s death rate. Still, there are many who remain at risk by not taking advantage of available prevention.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that both boys and girls complete the three-shot series for HPV vaccination by the time they are 13 years old. Getting all three doses ensures the most effective protection, but even a single dose of the HPV vaccine has been shown to yield benefits.
Most children are not receiving the vaccination according to that recommendation. In Georgia, there is room for improvement when it comes to vaccination rates, said Ben Sloat, special populations manager with the DPH Immunizations program.
“Despite the HPV vaccine being licensed for more than seven years, only 50 percent of adolescent females ages 13-17 in Georgia have received even one of the three doses in the HPV vaccine series. Only 29 percent completed the series in 2012. HPV immunization rates for adolescent males are even lower,” Sloat said.
However there are heightened efforts to change that in Georgia this year. The state will work to increase HPV vaccination coverage rates among adolescents with the help of a Prevention and Public Health grant from the CDC. DPH was one of 11 public health organizations to receive the supplemental funding, and the only one in the Southeast.
Vaccination for HPV is an important part of preventing cervical cancer, but regular screenings are also important, since cervical cancer is highly treatable if detected in its early stages.
“Females over the age of 21 should have pap smears according to the most up-to-date, evidence-based guidelines,” Yeany said.
For more information about HPV, the vaccine and cervical cancer, visit the CDC’s website.