January is Cervical Health Awareness Month
I want to highlight the importance of early detection of cervical cancer and the human papillomavirus (HPV). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cervical cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths among women internationally. Early detection through regular gynecological examinations and Pap testing can allow doctors to treat cervical cancer and HPV.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. An estimated 20 million people are infected. The virus is spread primarily through sexual contact and usually has no symptoms or signs, which allows people to unknowingly spread it. We are concerned about HPV because researchers have found that almost all cervical cancer cases are associated with an HPV infection.
Approximately 10,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. Pap tests can detect precancerous cells (often caused by HPV) for further examination and treatment in order to prevent cancer.
"There has been a noticeable decrease in cervical cancer among the military population," said Army Col. G. Scott Rose, MD, director of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Col. Rose attributes this decrease in cervical cancer to increased early detection through mandatory, regular Pap tests for active duty females. "For active duty females, we track Pap tests on a daily basis, the same way we track dental exams."
Along with regular Pap tests, there is now a preventive vaccine available to protect women from HPV infections that may lead to cervical cancer. The vaccine is most effective when doctors administer it to females who have not had sexual contact. It may, however, be given to women up to 26 years of age.
The HPV vaccine does not replace regular gynecological exams or Pap tests. Col. Rose estimates that in the last six months, awareness of the connection between HPV and cervical cancer has increased, partially due to television commercials for the HPV vaccine. At Walter Reed, doctors strongly recommend the HPV vaccine for all women up to age 26. So far, every eligible woman has agreed to have the vaccination.
The HPV vaccine is available as a benefit for all eligible female TRICARE beneficiaries.
S. Ward Casscells, M.D.Cervical Health Awareness Month Video
Article Courtesy of U.S. DoD Military Health System