Preventing Cervical Cancer

TULSA, Okla. (January 16, 2018) – January marks Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and according to the American Cancer Society, approximately 12,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer are diagnosed every year. The good news: Cervical pre-cancers are diagnosed far more often than invasive cervical cancer, thanks to increased screening with the Pap test. The screening procedure can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops and detect cervical cancer in its early stages, when the disease is most curable.

“Cervical cancer is usually a slow process that starts with abnormal changes known as dysplasia, and eventually cancer cells begin to form and spread more deeply into the tissue of the cervix and surrounding areas,” said Charles Knife Chief, MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist with St. John Clinic. “There are usually no symptoms, but thanks largely to the increased use of the Pap test, the cervical cancer death rate has declined by more than 50 percent over the last 40 years.”

Understanding the risk factors and detection methods for cervical cancer are crucial to early detection. Four truths about cervical cancer from the American Cancer Society include:

Cervical cancer tends to occur in midlife: Most cases are found in women younger than 50, but it rarely develops in women younger than 20. Often, older women do not realize the risk of developing cervical cancer is still present as they age. More than 15 percent of cervical cancer cases are found in women over 65.

There are usually no symptoms: There are usually no symptoms of cervical cancer, and, left undetected, cervical cancer was once a major cause of death for American women. The best way to find cervical cancer early is to have regular screening with a Pap test. Being alert to any signs and symptoms of cervical cancer can also help avoid unnecessary delays in diagnosis.

Several risk factors increase the risk of developing cervical cancer: The most important risk factor for cervical cancer is infection by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a group of more than 150 viruses. Other risk factors include smoking, having a weakened immune system, being overweight, and having a family history of cervical cancer.

Early detection greatly improves the chances of successful treatment: Today, a test to detect HPV is often used as a follow-up when abnormalities are detected on a Pap test. It can also be used as a cervical cancer screening on its own, and, in one recent study, it was nearly twice as effective as the Pap test in detecting early cervical cancer.

“Another recent advancement in the prevention of cervical cancer is the HPV vaccine series, which is intended to produce immunity to HPV types that cause about 90 percent of cervical cancers, as well as other cancers,” said Michael Gold, MD, a gynecologic oncologist at Oklahoma Cancer Specialists and Research Institute, St. John’s partner in cancer care. “Studies are underway to see how well these vaccines reduce the risk. The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to prevent the virus leading to that cancer.”

According to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, all girls and boys 11 and 12 years old should complete the HPV vaccine series by age 13 so they have time to develop the best immune response. Teens and young adults up to age 26 who were not vaccinated as preteens should complete the vaccine series as soon as possible.

St. John Clinic primary care doctors and gynecologists can typically perform the tests needed to diagnose cancers and pre-cancers, may also be able to treat pre-cancer, and can administer the HPV vaccine series. For help finding a doctor, call the St. John PulseLine at 918-744-0123 or visit

Ascension’s St. John Health System operates seven hospitals and more than 90 healthcare clinics and facilities in eastern Oklahoma and southeastern Kansas. St. John Health System employs approximately 8,000 associates. Across the region, St. John Health System provided more than $68 million in community benefit and care of persons living in poverty in fiscal year 2016. Serving Oklahoma for more than 90 years, Ascension is a faith-based healthcare organization committed to delivering compassionate, personalized care to all, with special attention to persons living in poverty and those most vulnerable. Ascension is the largest non-profit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system, operating 2,500 sites of care – including 141 hospitals and more than 30 senior living facilities – in 22 states and the District of Columbia.

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