Cervical cancer affects thousands of women each year — some fatally. Thanks to new and advancing technologies though, those numbers could soon be on the decline. Not only are we learning more every day about how to detect and treat cervical cancer early, new developments have made it possible for this disease to be prevented altogether.
Preventing Cervical Cancer
The primary cause of cervical cancer is actually a virus: human papilloma virus, or HPV. HPV is transmitted sexually, and is far more common than most realize. Condoms do provide some level of protection, but even women who have never had unprotected sex can become infected.
HPV has shown to be more common among women who began having sex at an early age, and the risk of contracting this virus increases with the number of sexual partners a woman has. Having sex with men who have not been circumcised also increases the risk.
Among the most recent developments are two FDA-approved vaccines: Gardasil and Cervarix, which have been shown in studies to immunize recipients against the two most common forms of cervical cancer.
As vaccines, though, Gardasil and Cervarix can only prevent HPV in women who are not infected. They have no affect on those who have already contracted the virus.
The Importance of Early Detection
HPV is one of the many issues that can be detected by an annual Pap smear. Often, testing can actually find cells in their pre-cancerous stage, allowing these cells to be removed before they develop into full-blown cancer.
There are several methods for removing pre-cancerous cells, and these procedures are usually performed on an outpatient basis by an OB/GYN.
- Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure: Also called LEEP, this procedure involves cutting away abnormal cells with a low-voltage current passed through a thin wire.
- Crysosurgery: In cryosurgery, abnormal cells are frozen off with the use of liquid nitrogen.
- Laser Surgery: This method involves the use of lasers to burn away pre-cancerous cells.
- Cold Knife Cone Biopsy: Unlike other methods, cold knife cone biopsy takes place in a surgical facility under anesthesia. This type of procedure is used when the source of the abnormal Pap smear cannot be seen through traditional methods.
All of these procedures have a high rate of effectiveness, meaning that once precancerous cells are removed, they cannot develop into full-blown cancer.
Regular Checkups Provide Added Security
Removal of precancerous cells caused by HPV prevents existing abnormalities from developing into cancer, but it does not keep new areas from forming. This is why it is particularly important for women who have had early signs of cervical cancer to get regular Pap smears.
If you are due for your regular gynecological exam, call our office in Gainesville or Lake City today to schedule an appointment. Early detection can quite literally save your life.