Preparation for Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

Cervical cancer stands apart from other cancers. It carries an early onset, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends women start cervical cancer screenings as early as age 21. While the disease has declined in prevalence, there was a period where it held an almost obscene title—the leading cause of cancer death for women in the U.S. However, the increase in awareness of the cancer has allowed health professionals to find and address precancerous cells before they become full-blown cervical cancer. To that end, January now holds the recognition as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and with it nearly here, Radiologists and health professionals need to start thinking about how they will work to raise awareness.

What You Need to Know About the Prevalence of Cervical Cancer and Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.

Before jumping into an awareness campaign, it is important to understand the real prevalence of the disease in today’s age. Out of 100,000 women, prevalence stands at 7.7 individuals in 2016, reflecting a 2.0 decline since 1999, reports the CDC. Meanwhile, approximately 13,000 new cervical cancer diagnoses are made each year, slightly less than the 14,000 found in 1999.

As explained by the World Health Organization (WHO), cervical cancer derives from exposure to human papilloma virus (HPV). Unfortunately, HPV is a not a female-exclusive virus. It is a sexually transmitted infection, and more than 100 forms of HPV exist. At least 14 have known associations with the development of cervical cancer. Part of the problem lies in the hidden nature of HPV. The infection itself may not cause any recognizable symptoms, so it is possible to carry the infection without knowing it.

Moreover, HPV has been linked to cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, penis and oropharynx. So, while January is the national month of awareness for cervical cancer, it is an excellent to reiterate its relationship to HPV and the ways HPV can affect men as well.

Sadly, cervical cancer remains the most common cancer among women in less-developed areas, and in 2018, more than 311,000 women around the globe lost their lives to cervical cancer. The only way to prevent cervical cancer lies in comprehensive prevention, including vaccination against HPV and secondary prevention measures to detect pre-cancerous cells. Furthermore, cervical cancer can be cured when diagnosed in an early stage.

What Radiology Tests Aid in Cervical Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment?

While a Pap test is the most effective means of diagnosing cervical cancer, it is an invasive procedure. Women may experience discomfort as the procedure entails the slight scraping of tissues on the outside of the cervix and the vagina, explains If abnormal cells are found, the provider may recommend further testing to determine how advanced the cancer has become or spread.

At this point, the provider may refer the patient to a radiologist for assessment. Radiologists may perform a series of x-rays, including an intravenous urography to view the kidneys and bladder. In addition, a CT scan, MRI and PET scan may be used to further assess the extent of the cancer. If the cancer has spread and requires treatment, up to and including radiotherapy (targeted radiation), additional imaging may be necessary to plan radiotherapy treatment.

Prevention Methods for Cervical Cancer That All Women Need to Know.

The biggest way to prevent cervical cancer is simple; get the HPV vaccination. However, the three available HPV vaccines are only effective against types 16 and 18, which cause most cervical cancers. That leaves at least 12 cancer-causing forms of the virus that a woman could contract. Yet, even these vaccines may provide some protection against the lesser-known virus types that may cause cervical cancer. So, prevention methods become a bit more complicated and include:

  • Using proper barriers, such as condoms, to prevent transmission during sexual activity.
  • Obtaining regular Pap tests to assess cellular health.
  • Sex education that is appropriate for the age and culture of the person.
  • Women over age 30 should receive immediate treatment after obtaining rapid HPV testing with annual screenings, which includes on-site treatment.
  • Of course, any prevention method for cervical cancer should also include a mention of how males may contract and spread HPV. Again, wearing condoms, sexual education and even circumcision have a known effect on lowering the risk of contraction and transmission of HPV among males.

Regardless of gender, the key to reducing cervical cancer lies in spreading awareness about its primary cause—HPV.

How Radiologists Can Help With Awareness.

While radiologists may only be involved in the later stages of cervical cancer testing and treatment, they can provide a vital service in spreading awareness. Since women may require imaging of the abdomen, such as following a vehicle accident or injury, it provides a logic means of reviewing for anomalies that may indicate possible cancer. At the same time, radiologists are health professionals, and they have a duty to share the responsibility of spreading awareness. To get their practices ready for Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, private practices should take these steps:

  1. Create and distribute cervical cancer awareness materials.
  2. Obtain local statistics from your health department regarding cervical cancer.
  3. Offer an incentive for cervical cancer imaging and joint practice screenings.
  4. Participate in community events related to cervical cancer awareness.
  5. Ask local media for airtime and spotlights to launch public service announcements that highlight your practice’s goals.
  6. Make examples relevant to your community.
  7. Reach out to insurers regarding their typical coverages for cancer screenings and treatment.
  8. Create short videos for social media to showcase the need for more awareness.

Start Working to Build Awareness for Cervical Cancer to Stand Out in January and Save Lives Now.

It is possible to beat cervical cancer, and the most effective prevention strategies begin before a person becomes sexually active. Both males and females need to know how to maintain safe sexual practices, obtain the HPV vaccine, and understand the risks of cervical cancer. For women, preventing cervical cancer is a life-long process. For men, preventing and managing HPV is a life-long process. January is almost here, and everyone should take the time to think about how they can work to stop the spread of HPV and cervical cancer alike.