Preventing HPV and cervical cancer

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Every year, nearly 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Leigh Seamon, a gynecologic oncologist from Spectrum Health, discusses ways to prevent HPV and cervical cancer in recognition of Cervical Health Awareness Month.

HPV is an infection that changes the cells of the cervix, causing abnormalities in the body. When these abnormalities get worse, they can turn into cancer.

80 percent of women are infected with genital HPV at some point in their lives, but don't know they're infected because HPV is usually cleared by the body's immune system. This is why the cervical screening and HPV vaccination are so important to get at a young age, to help prevent cancer in the first place.

If you are sexually active, you're at risk of getting HPV. There isn't a treatment for an HPV infection, but the body's immune system will usually clear itself of the infection.

There are vaccines to prevent HPV however, and they work best if they're given before women come into contact with HPV.

Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by high risk HPV. HPV is very common but doesn't show symptoms, which is why regular cervical screenings are so important.

The results of an HPV test combined with cervical screening will bring about a faster investigation of those at high risk of cervical cancer, and reassurance to those who are at low risk.

Symptoms don't usually show up until it's too late, but some can be recognized such as:

  • Abnormal bleeding: during or after sexual intercourse, or between periods
  • Post-menopausal bleeding
  • Unusual and/or unpleasant vaginal discharge
  • Discomfort or pain during sex
  • Lower back pain

If you've been diagnosed with cancer and would like a second opinion or consultation, call 1-855-SHCANCER.

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