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Raising Awareness About Cervical Health


By Kalila Fleming

WRNMMC Command Communications

“Cervical cancer is the most preventable female cancer. Cervical Health Awareness Month [observed during January] is charged with raising awareness about how women can protect themselves from cervical cancer and HPV (human papillomavirus), which is the major cause of cervical cancer,” explained Air Force Col. (Dr.) Chad Hamilton, chief of Gynecologic Oncology at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
About 79 million Americans have HPV, and many do not know they are infected, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This does not mean all women with the HPV will get cervical cancer, health-care officials added.
The HHS added that approximately 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer each year, with about 4,000 dying from the disease. But the good news is the HPV vaccine can prevent HPV, and cervical cancer can often be prevented with regular screening tests and follow-up care, Hamilton added.
Hamilton explained the cervix is vulnerable to a number of health conditions, many of which are asymptomatic. “But some HPV types can cause changes on a woman’s cervix that can lead to cervical cancer over time, while other types can cause genital or skin warts,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“For most women, HPV will go away on its own; however, if it does not, there is a chance that over time if may cause cervical cancer,” the CDC added. In its early stages, cervical cancer may not cause signs and symptoms, but as it progresses there may be pain and bleeding or discharge from the vagina that is not normal for the woman, including as bleeding after sex.
Hamilton agreed that the HPV and regular screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer. “As gynecologic cancer specialists, we strongly advocate that young women and men ages 9 to 26 get vaccinated against HPV,” he said.
“HPV vaccines have been shown to prevent infection with the two types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. Also, regular screening by Pap or HPV tests at recommended intervals is important. These tests help find abnormal cells or high risk HPV in the cervix before cancer develops when it is easily treated,” Hamilton added.
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, it is recommended that women start receiving periodic pelvic examinations beginning at the age of 21 (or younger when indicated by medical history). “Age 21 is also the recommended age to start cervical cancer (Pap) screenings, which should then be continued at guideline based intervals based on age and risk factors,” the ACOG added.
The Pap test involves looking at a sample of cells from the cervix under a microscope to see if there are any that are abnormal. The ACOG added the Pap test is also good for finding not only cancer, but also cells that might become cancerous in the future, also known as dysplasia.
Additional recommendations from the CDC to help prevent cervical cancer include:
•Don’t smoke.
•Use condoms during sex
•Limit your number of sexual partners
If a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer, Hamilton explained that she should be referred to a gynecologic oncologist, a subspecialist with expertise in the management of female genital tract cancers. He added that treatments may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or various combinations of those modalities depending on how early the cancer is detected.
For more information regarding cervical health, call 301-400-1258 to contact the Gynecologic Cancer Center of Excellence located on the third floor of the America Building (19) at WRNMMC.