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The cervix is part of the female reproductive system – connecting the uterus to the vagina (or birth canal). Cervical cancer is an abnormal growth of cells on the cervix, or an abnormal growth of cells that began in the cervix. Cervical cancer is almost 100 percent preventable through regular, routine screening, avoidance of controllable risk factors, and vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV). In the United States, an estimated 12,360 cases of invasive cervical cancer were diagnosed in 2014, and over 4,000 deaths occurred as a result of cervical cancer. During 2012, 240 new cases of cervical cancer and 100 cervical cancer-related deaths occurred among Indiana women.
HPV infection is the single greatest risk factor for cervical cancer. HPV is passed person-to-person through sexual contact. Delaying first sexual activity, limiting sexual partners, using condoms during sex, and being vaccinated can reduce the risk of contracting HPV.
The HPV vaccine, which consists of a three injection series, is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for all boys and girls ages 11-12. In addition, the CDC recommends vaccination for teens that did not get the vaccine when they were younger. Young women can get the HPV vaccine through age 26, and young men can get vaccinated through age 21. The vaccine is also recommended for gay and bisexual men (or any young man who has sex with men), and for men with compromised immune systems (including HIV), through age 26, if they did not get HPV vaccine when they were younger.
Hoosier women are most often diagnosed with cervical cancer during their middle adult years. During 2012, 85 percent of cervical cancer cases occurred among Indiana women less than 65 years old, including 38 percent of cases occurring among women ages 25 to 44, and 46 percent among women ages 45 to 64.
In Indiana, during 2003-2012, African-American women, compared to white women, had a 22 percent higher cervical cancer incidence rate and a 46 percent higher mortality rate. While many factors are probably impacting this disparity, one apparent issue is that African-American women tend to be diagnosed more often after the cervical cancer is no longer localized.
According to the American Cancer Society, women who smoke are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer when compared to non-smokers. For help quitting, or to help a loved one quit, contact the Indiana Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669) or www.quitnowindiana.com.
There are two screening tests that can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early. The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for pre-cancers, which are cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately. The second test is an HPV test, which looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for cervical cancer in women ages 21 to 65 with a Pap test every three years, or women ages 30 to 65 can screen every five years with a Pap test combined with an HPV test. During 2012, Indiana ranked 48th in the nation for the percent of women age 21 and older who reported having had a Pap test during the past three years.
Updated March 2015.