1. The Inside Scoop
  2. Health Tips for Women
  3. Women’s Health Month: A Focus on Cervical Cancer
cervical cancer

Women’s Health Month: A Focus on Cervical Cancer

May 7, 2024

Women's Health Month is an important time to shed light on crucial health issues that affect women, and one of the most significant ones is cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that affects the cervix, the lower part of the uterus. It affects women and is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). This month, it is essential to raise awareness about cervical cancer, its symptoms, prevention, and available treatments. Regular screenings and vaccinations against HPV can greatly reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer. By focusing on cervical cancer during Women's Health Month, we can empower women to prioritize their health and take preventive measures to protect themselves from this potentially life-threatening disease.

Gynecologist with Patient
Inside Scoop

The Inside Rx Blog

Get the Inside Scoop on tips & tricks that may help your family save on prescriptions!

Subscribe to stay up to date with the latest news and tips

Cervical cancer, primarily caused by the high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV), ranks as the 6th most prevalent cancer among women in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, marking the importance of awareness during Women's Health Month. With 99% of cases linked to HPV, understanding the symptoms of cervical cancer and the causes of cervical cancer becomes pivotal in the battle against this disease.

Recognizing May as Women’s Health Month offers a unique opportunity to educate on the significance of HPV vaccination and regular screenings starting at age 30, aiming for the ambitious goal of ending cervical cancer within generations. This focus on prevention and timely cervical cancer treatments highlights the potential for significantly reducing the impact of this disease on women's health.

Understanding Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer begins when cells in the cervix undergo abnormal changes and multiply uncontrollably, leading to the formation of tumors. The primary culprit behind this condition is the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a prevalent sexually transmitted infection. Notably, HPV is responsible for nearly all cases of cervical cancer, emphasizing the importance of early detection and prevention.

Key Factors Contributing to Risk

  1. HPV Infection: Being the foremost cause, persistent infection with high-risk HPV types can lead to cervical cancer if not cleared by the body.
  2. Sexual Behavior: Engaging in high-risk sexual activities, such as early sexual activity, multiple partners, or partners who participate in high-risk behaviors, significantly increases the risk.
  3. Immunocompromised States: Women with HIV are six times more likely to develop cervical cancer compared to those without HIV, highlighting the role of immune system health in cancer prevention.

Global Impact and WHO's Elimination Goals

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women globally, with a significant number of deaths, particularly in low- and middle-income countries where healthcare access is limited. In response, the World Health Organization (WHO) has set ambitious targets to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem by 2120. This includes ensuring 90% of girls are vaccinated against HPV by age 15, 70% of women are screened by ages 35 and 45, and 90% of those with precancerous conditions receive treatment.

This comprehensive strategy also involves tailoring regional approaches, such as the strategy developed for the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, to effectively address local needs and challenges in combating cervical cancer.

Prevention Strategies

Regular Screenings and HPV Vaccination

  1. Importance of Regular Gynecological Screenings: Regular screenings, including Pap tests, are crucial as they can detect most cases of cervical cancer early, allowing for timely intervention. The Pap test specifically looks for precancers, which are cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if not addressed.
  2. HPV Vaccination: A Critical Preventative Measure: The HPV vaccine is recommended for preteens aged 11-12 years but can start as early as age 9. It is also advised for everyone through age 26 years if they have not been vaccinated already. The vaccine prevents infections with the types of HPV most commonly linked to cervical, throat, and anal cancers. Notably, the vaccine protects against HPV types 16 and 18, which are high-risk strains.
  3. Comprehensive Strategy by WHO: The World Health Organization advocates for a threefold intervention strategy to eliminate cervical cancer globally. This includes immunizing 90% of girls by age 15, screening 70% of women at ages 35 and 45 using efficient tests, and treating at least 90% of those with detected pre-cancerous conditions.

Lifestyle and Behavioral Adjustments

  1. Smoking and Sexual Health Practices: Avoiding smoking and using condoms during sexual activity are significant preventive measures. Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of developing precancerous conditions and cervical cancer. While condoms provide some protection against HPV, they do not completely prevent infection.
  2. National and Community Support Programs: The CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program offers free or low-cost cervical cancer screening tests to eligible individuals, supporting early detection and prevention.
  3. Self-Screening and Regular Testing: From the age of 30, regular screening is vital and can be facilitated through self-collection of samples for HPV testing, which has proven as reliable as those collected by healthcare providers. This method can increase participation rates in areas where access to healthcare providers is limited.

Adoption of a Preventive Lifestyle

Cancer Prevention Lifestyle Adopting a lifestyle that includes a cancer prevention diet, regular exercise, and limiting the number of sexual partners can further reduce the risk of cervical cancer. Regular cervical cancer screenings remain a top strategy for maintaining women's health.

Treatment Options

Surgical Treatments

  1. Cold Knife Conization - A scalpel is used to remove a cone-shaped piece of tissue from the cervix and cervical canal.
  2. Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy - The sentinel lymph node is removed during surgery to check for the presence of cancer cells.
  3. Hysterectomy Variants - Depending on the case, a total, radical, or modified radical hysterectomy may be performed to remove the uterus and cervix.
  4. Radical Trachelectomy - This procedure involves the removal of the cervix, nearby tissue, and the upper part of the vagina, potentially allowing for future pregnancies.
  5. Bilateral Salpingo-oophorectomy - Both ovaries and fallopian tubes are removed to prevent the spread of cancer.
  6. Total Pelvic Exenteration - An extensive procedure where the lower colon, rectum, bladder, cervix, vagina, ovaries, and nearby lymph nodes are removed.

Radiation and Chemotherapy

  • External Radiation Therapy - Utilizes high-energy x-rays or other radiation types to destroy cancer cells.
  • Internal Radiation Therapy (Brachytherapy) - Involves placing a radioactive substance directly into or near the cancer to target tumor cells.
  • Chemotherapy Regimens - Common drugs include cisplatin, carboplatin, gemcitabine, ifosfamide, irinotecan, paclitaxel, topotecan, and vinorelbine.

Targeted and Immunotherapy Options

  • Targeted Therapies - Drugs like bevacizumab and tisotumab vedotin are used to specifically target cancer cells without affecting normal cells.
  • Immunotherapy - Pembrolizumab is used for patients whose cervical cancer expresses the PD-L1 biomarker, helping the immune system recognize and fight cancer cells.

Clinical Trials and Follow-up Care

  • Clinical Trials - Offer access to new treatments and are an option for patients seeking alternatives to conventional treatments.
  • Follow-up Care - Regular tests and checkups are essential to monitor treatment effectiveness and detect any signs of cancer recurrence.

Staging and Treatment Adaptation

  • Early Stages (IA1, IA2) - Treatment options include cone biopsy, trachelectomy, or hysterectomy, tailored to the cancer's extent.
  • Stages IB, IIA1, IIA2 - Options expand to radical hysterectomy with lymph node dissection or combined radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
  • Advanced Stages (IIB, III, IVA) - Treatment primarily involves chemotherapy with radiation therapy, or chemotherapy alone in cases of metastatic or recurrent cervical cancer.

The Role of Public Health Initiatives

Global Strategies and Collaborative Efforts

WHO's Global Call to Action

In May 2018, the WHO Director-General issued a global call to action, aiming to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health issue. The initiative focuses on three main pillars: Vaccination, Screening, and Treatment, each with specific global targets to achieve by 2030.

National Cancer Institute's Last Mile Initiative

The NCI's Cervical Cancer ‘Last Mile’ Initiative targets health disparities by enhancing access to cervical cancer screening, especially for those who are rarely or never screened. This initiative supports regulatory approvals for self-collection methods and spreads evidence to inform clinical practices.

CDC's Prevention and Early Detection Programs

The CDC leads crucial efforts in cancer prevention and early detection, significantly improving survivor health. Through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, it provides essential screening and diagnostic services to underinsured and low-income women, aiming to catch the disease in its early stages.

HRSA and the Federal Cervical Cancer Collaborative

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Office of Women's Health participates in the Federal Cervical Cancer Collaborative. This group enhances access to cervical cancer services in safety-net settings, including health centers and rural clinics, ensuring comprehensive care from prevention to palliative treatment.

Setting Targets and Monitoring Progress

WHO's Elimination Strategy

The WHO's strategy for eliminating cervical cancer involves reducing the incidence rate to fewer than 4 cases per 100,000 women annually. Achieving this requires 90% HPV vaccination coverage among girls by age 15, 70% screening coverage with high-performance tests by ages 35 and 45, and 90% treatment coverage for precancerous conditions and invasive cancer.

Monitoring and Evaluation

WHO Cervical Cancer Country Profiles provide crucial data on the current status of cervical cancer in each member state, helping to monitor progress towards elimination goals and adjust strategies as needed.

The Inside Rx prescription discount card works like a manufacturer coupon to save on the cost of prescription medication at your local pharmacy.

Saving with Inside Rx

The costs that come along with cancer treatment and management can be debilitating. Inside Rx is here to help. If you’re prescribed medication before, during or after treatment Inside Rx may be able to help you save up to 80% at nearly 60,000 pharmacies. Simply price your medication then download, text or email the Inside Rx prescription savings card and show it to the pharmacist when you pay for your prescription.