Jan 28, 2020 Cervical Health Awareness Added to New Year’s Resolutions

When discussing New Year’s resolutions, many people pledge to be kinder to others or commit to going to the gym more. Most resolutions do not include talking to health care providers about cervical health, but they should. As January is National Cervical Health Awareness Month, this is an optimum time for candid conversations about cervical health awareness.

According to the American Cancer Society, 13,179 women develop cervical cancer annually with 4,250 dying each year as a result. Dr. George Tweddel, a board-certified physician in obstetrics and gynecology, affiliated with RWJBarnabas Health medical group as well as Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset, believes the administration of the HPV vaccine and regular Pap screenings can prevent or minimize the effects of infections or cervical cancer.

“HPV infections and cervical pre-cancers have dropped significantly since the HPV vaccine has been regularly administered, including a 71 percent decrease among young adult women and 86 percent decrease among teen girls, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” said Dr. Tweddel. “The ideal time to administer the vaccine to both girls and boys is age 11-12 as that is traditionally when they are still receiving other vaccines and before they become sexually active.”

The vaccine, which is made from one protein from the virus, cannot cause an infection or cancer and has been proven to be safe and effective. With any vaccine there may be temporary side effects such as headaches, fever, and pain near the injection site; however, the benefits of HPV vaccination far outweigh any potential risks, including a 90% prevention rate from these vaccinated to ever develop cervical cancer.

While cervical cancer can occur at any age, it is most common in women between the ages of 25 and 44, with an additional 15% of cases reported in women over the age of 65. Diagnoses of cervical cancer rarely occur in women who have been regularly screened before the age of 65, which is why both vaccinations and screenings are strongly recommended by the American Cancer Society.

The American Cancer Society recommends:

  • All women should begin cervical cancer testing (screening) at age 21. Women aged 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every three years.
  • Beginning at age 30, the preferred way to screen is with a Pap test combined with a HPV test every five years until age 65, as long as the test results are normal, or to get tested every three years with only the Pap test.
  • Women over the age of 65 who have had regular screenings in the previous 10 years can stop cervical cancer screenings if they haven’t had any serious precancers found in the last 20 years.
  • Women who have had a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) should stop screening unless the hysterectomy was done as a treatment for cervical precancer or cervical cancer.
  • Women of any age should NOT be screened every year by any screening method.
  • Women who have been vaccinated against HPV should continue regular Pap screenings.

For more information or to find a specialist who treats and manages cervical diseases, please visit rwjbh.org/medicalgroup and select find a doctor, where you can search by physician name, specialty or location.