Preventive Care for Birmingham Women
A few generations ago, cervical cancer took the lives of more women than any other cancer. Today, it is a largely preventable disease. Beginning in the 1940s, the Pap test became available to women. A swab is used to collect cells from the cervix. The sample is then examined to look for abnormal cells, either cancer or pre-cancerous cells.
By the 1990s, research determined that human papilloma virus (HPV) causes cervical cancer. This discovery opened the door to new preventive opportunities. The HPV vaccine, given to preteens and young adults, can provide strong protection against cervical cancer. We now have a test for the presence of the HPV virus from a swab of the cervix. It can be performed alone or at the same time as a Pap test. The HPV test tries to find the virus that could cause cancer or pre-cancer. It does not look at whether cervical cells are normal or abnormal.
Why then do 12,000 women in the U.S. still develop cervical cancer each year? First, for a number of reasons, many women do not get regular preventive healthcare services. Second, the number of young women getting the complete series of HPV vaccines is much lower than we would like—in Alabama only about 58%. Finally, neither the vaccine nor the Pap and HPV tests provide 100% protection. Read more