Every two minutes, a woman dies of cervical cancer worldwide
Cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine have entered the political debates around the country as well as discussions in the household. The current media firestorm surrounding the HPV vaccine has caused parents to question whether this new vaccine is right for their kids, or where to begin their research on the topic.
What is cervical cancer?
The following definition is taken directly from the National Cancer Institute:
Cervical cancer is “cancer that forms in tissues of the cervix (the organ connecting the uterus and vagina). It is usually a slow-growing cancer that may not have symptoms but can be found with regular Pap tests (a procedure in which cells are scraped from the cervix and looked at under a microscope). Cervical cancer is almost always caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.”
Who is at risk?
Being a smoker puts you at risk. Also if your immune system is weak, or if you started having sex early, or have had many sexual partners are risk factors. Having other sexually transmitted diseases and, certainly, family history all play a part as risk factors.
What is HPV?
HPVs are a group of more than 150 related viruses, of which forty types can be passed from one person to another through sexual contact. Most infections of HPVs go away without any treatment. However, when the infection persists, that’s when you get cell abnormalities that can turn cancerous.
In the U.S., 6.2 million people a year are exposed to HPV. In 2011 alone, 12,271 women in the U.S. were diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,290 died from it. “Cervical Cancer used to be the leading cause of death in women. When we started to give women the pap smear, we saw a drastic reduction in those numbers,” states Dr. James J. Booker, M.D., a Gynecologist out of Winter Haven and Bartow Regional Medical Center.
Each year 471,000 women worldwide are diagnosed with some form of HPV, and it is the fifth most common cancer. In less developed countries it is the second most common cancer and accounts for 300,000 deaths.
HPV can lay dormant in a woman’s body for years. When her immune system is compromised or becomes weakened, it is possible for the strain she has contracted to come out and turn into something more serious.
What can you do to prevent cervical cancer?
When looking at prevention, risk factors have to be looked at as well. A risk factor such as a family history cannot be prevented, but how you live can. Eating healthy, avoiding known cancer causing substances and taking medicines to treat pre-cancerous conditions are all factors that can potentially prevent an infection from becoming cancerous.
Why the HPV vaccine?
The HPV vaccine, approved for use in June of 2006, is available for girls and women from nine to twenty-six. The vaccine is given before a girl is sexually active, which is at the height of the political controversy.Vaccinations have been in the limelight before, but this new portion delving into current politics has caused some to simply ask, “We don’t have enough information, where can we get it?” For starters, there are two companies that make the vaccine. The first one is Cervarix, which targets the HPV 16 and HPV 18 strains. This vaccine is said to guard against 70% of cervical and genital cancers. Gardacil does the same, only it works on HPV 6 and HPV 11 as well, which cause genital warts.
There are multiple Internet sites that can assist in educating yourself about the HPV vaccine and cervical cancer, such as the Centers for Disease Control, National Cancer Institute, Mayo Clinic, and The American Cancer Society.
Dr. Ralph Nobo, Jr., M.D. of Bartow states, “Here is a scary statistic: 80% of American women will have at least one strain by the time they are fifty years old. That doesn‘t mean that particular strain will become cancerous, but vaccinating will certainly lower any chances. Don’t be scared to vaccinate.”
A new topic for discussion brings up whether boys should receive it as well, with new cases of HPV strains having risen 77% in the last few years in men. Dr. Nobo states, “I recommend boys getting this vaccination as well. When they marry, if they were sexually active at all, they could pass it onto their wives.” Dr. Booker agrees, “The benefit can only be greater than the risk.”
Currently 41 states in the U.S. have passed some form of legislation for HPV, whether it is voluntary vaccinations or passing out information on cervical cancer. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “At least 20 states have enacted [HPV] legislation, including Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.” Current mandates for the HPV vaccination are active (with an option to opt-out) in Washington D.C. and Virginia.
Dr. Nobo adds, “I don’t believe you should force parents to give the vaccinations, but I do hope they become educated on it and make the best decision for them.”
To find out more information, or download a booklet on “what you need to know about cancer of the cervix” please go to: National Cancer Institute at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/cervical.
MEET THE DOCTOR: Ralph J. Nobo, Jr., MD
Occupation: Gynecologist for 3 years and an OB/GYN for 33 years
Location: 222 W. Main Street, Suite B, Bartow, FL 33830
What made you decide to become an OB/GYN?
“When you go to medical school you go through rounds in all different areas. When you are in a room delivering a baby, however, there is something amazing about placing her in the arms of a 6’4” fireman, and seeing him pass out or burst into tears. This was a person who dealt with carrying people out of burning buildings. The gift of life is overwhelming.”
High School Graduate: Winter Haven High School
Medical School: SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain
While serving on the Political Action Committee, Dr. Nobo was recently named Vice President of the Florida Medical Association. Dr. Nobo is also a member of the Polk County Medical Association.
MEET THE DOCTOR: James J. Booker, MD
Location: 400 Avenue K South East Suite 6, Winter Haven, FL 33880
Affiliations: Bartow Regional Medical Center, Lake Wales Medical Center, Winter Haven Hospital
What made you decide to become a Gynecologist?
I enjoy primary care and getting to know my patients. Being a gynecologist allows me to have a nice balance between having a practice and doing surgery. It’s one of the few professions in the medical field that allows you to be more than a specialist.
High School Graduate: Virginia
Undergraduate: William and Mary
Medical College: Medical College of Virginia
What do you tell your patients about avoiding cervical cancer?
Get the HPV vaccine and don’t smoke. Also continue to get routine pap smears.
story by DIANNE NUTTING