Screening is Key to Battling Silent Killer
This article originally appeared in invision, a magazine
published for staff at UMass Memorial Medical Center.
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" certainly holds true when
it comes to cervical cancer.
Although uncommon, cervical cancer afflicts 14,000 women and causes 5,000
deaths in the United States annually. However, almost 60 percent of these cases
can be prevented with regular screenings.
Cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), the same virus
that produces genital warts. There are more than 100 strains of HPV, and some
types can lead to cervical cancer. HPV is a very common, sexually transmitted
virus that almost all women contract at some point in their lifetime. Most cases
are cleared by the body's immune system. However, persistent HPV can generate
abnormal cell growth that if left untreated, may lead to cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer most often affects women in their 30s through 50s, especially
those who do not have regular PAP smears to identify abnormal cells. It is a
silent killer because there are seldom symptoms until the disease has progressed
to an advanced stage. Men also contract HPV and can infect their partners;
however, male (penile) cancer caused by the virus is very rare.
The good news is that if found early, cervical cancer is curable in 85 to 90
percent of cases. If detected in advanced stages, survival rates drop to 15 to
25 percent. Current treatments include radical hysterectomy or radiation
therapy, with chemotherapy added for advanced cases.
The Food and Drug Administration recently approved a new vaccine to prevent certain types of
HPV. However, the best line of defense for cervical cancer is regular
screenings. "Women need to be educated about HPV. They need to talk with their
doctors and have regular screenings," advised gynecologic oncologist Susan