Shared from the 2017-01-23 The State eEdition

Screenings, vaccinations can make SC cervical cancer-free

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I see a future when no woman in South Carolina suffers or dies because of cervical cancer. That future is a real possibility, thanks to the remarkable prevention and screening tools we already possess.

Innovators, advocates and clinicians have saved lives in this effort worldwide over the past seven decades, with our state making notable strides in recent years. In 2010, I launched Cervical Cancer-Free South Carolina with Dr. Jennifer Young Pierce, a specialist in gynecologic oncology at Medical University of South Carolina, and we engaged many partners.

South Carolina ranks 11th in the United States in new cases of cervical cancer, according to 2013 data, the most recent available. We know that increased attention to cancers saves lives. And eliminating cervical cancer here will require open conversations about HPV infection, which causes cervical and several other cancers that affect women and men.

Each October, we paint the state pink in a galvanized effort to fight breast cancer. Each January, as we focus on cervical cancer, we should paint the state teal and white with the same intensity. Nationally, more than 400,000 women are diagnosed each year with HPV-related diseases of the cervix, and more than 14,000 of them will be cancer.

That’s more than the number diagnosed with breast cancer each year, but women don’t talk about cervical disease as openly.

So let’s talk about tools that we have to prevent cervical cancer.

Each woman should ask a gynecologist or primary care provider about screening recommendations. In general, women should be screened between ages 21 and 65. Most should have a Pap test at least every three years — or every five years in combination with an HPV test after age 30.

More than half of women in South Carolina diagnosed with cervical cancer have advanced cancer when diagnosed, which means they are more likely to face extensive treatment and even death. With recommended screenings, we can catch and treat precancer and cancer early, with a higher chance of cure and less intrusion in women’s lives.

Likewise, we want all South Carolinians to understand the importance of HPV vaccination, which has been available since 2006 and can also protect boys from HPV-related cancers. Our state also ranks among the highest in the country for HPVrelated cancers in men.

The ideal time for girls and boys to be vaccinated is at age 11 or 12, so they are protected before they even engage in sexual exploration, which can expose them to the virus. That age is also the best time for the vaccine to evoke a strong immune response. And it’s important to note HPV vaccination is recommended for boys – who are equally at risk for HPV-related cancers – as strongly as for girls.

Simply put: HPV vaccination today is cancer prevention for the future. We urge adolescents to get vaccinated. We also want young adults up to age 26 to know that they can still get vaccinated and that women should start cervical cancer screenings at age 21. Finally, adults must remember that it can take many years after HPV exposure for the signs to show up, so their regular screenings should not be forgotten or delayed.

New prevention and screening tools increase the chances of preventing cancer and catching cancer early, and HPV vaccination makes it possible to eliminate this disease altogether. That’s how we make South Carolina cervical-cancer free.

Dr. Brandt is an associate professor in USC’s Arnold School of Public Health and co-chair of Cervical Cancer-Free South Carolina; contact her at hbrandt@sc.edu.

See this article in the e-Edition Here