At one point, cervical cancer was the leading cause of cancer deaths for women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Over the last 40 years, that number has decreased.
Dr. Ngozi Uchendu says that in large part is due to accessibility to screenings and vaccines.
“In the U.S., we have screening tests that help to identify women so the incidence decreased over the last 30 years, a 50% decrease over the last 30 years,” Uchendu said.
Screening tests such as pap tests and HPV testing are available.
Vaccines are also approved and recommended for girls and boys age 11 or 12.
The main cause for cervical cancer is HPV, a virus that is sexually acquired so Uchendu says having a vaccine prior to exposure is key.
“It has been recommended as early as age 9 through 25 in males and females. The ideal age is age 11 or 12. There ends up being a better immune response with that age. Getting something prior to exposure so you get the optimum benefit,” Uchendu said.
According to the CDC, those getting the vaccine prior to age 14 only require two doses of the vaccine. After age 15, a full, three-dose series is needed.
If someone does contract HPV, regular screening tests will show the virus.
The CDC recommends women get their first pap test at age 21. The test looks for precancers, which are cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.
Cervical cancer usually does not present with signs or symptoms until after it has spread so Dr. Uchendu urges all women to get screened.
“Cervical cancer is highly preventable when found early and the key thing is having access and showing up,” Uchendu said. “This is why the incidence here compared to developing countries is so different. For women who have the resources available, showing up is key.”