10,000 women develop and nearly 4000 women die from cervical cancer each year in the U.S.. Most of the deaths are of poor and/or minority women. Pap testing (done on a regular basis) can most often catch cervical cellular changes at a pre-malignant or early malignant stage, allowing for treatment that is most often very successful. But many lack access to and/or do not avail themselves of these health maintenance services.
It is, however, always better to prevent the occurrence of a disease, than to try and catch it and then treat it before it gets “bad”.
The major cause of cervical cancer is certain “types” of HPV (Human Papillomavirus). If you can prevent infection with HPV you can prevent a large percentage of cervical cancers. Three things prevent cervical infection with HPV: 1) no genital-to-genital contact, 2) HPV vaccine (recently approved for use by the FDA), and 3) condoms. All 3 of these preventatives must be taught about, the public informed about them, and they must be used to be effective (i.e. used alone and/or in combination).
The FDA vaccine advisory panel, last week, recommended that all 11 and 12 year old girls should routinely receive the new anti-HPV vaccine. The vaccine is active against 2 types of the HPV responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases. What a step forward in preventative medicine.
While practitioners who deal with STD care and treatment have been of the opinion that consistent and “proper” condom use prevents most STD transmission, including HPV, only recently has there been a “good” study with proven benefit (good = well done clinical control comparison trial). [Keep in mind that “proper” condom use isn’t as easy as it may seem] Published last month, the study demonstrated a 70% reduction in risk of becoming infected with HPV. There has also been recent research demonstrating condom protection from herpes, chlamydia and syphilis (again it was always “known”, but now there is better clinical proof).
Lives can be saved with widespread vaccination and consistent, “proper” condom use as disease prevention measures.