Many people aim for resolutions or goals to enhance their health, and a part of that for women is that of cancer prevention. Be it directly by addressing specific aspects of cervical cancer or indirectly by completing activities that, as a result, could prevent it, these goals are of significant importance.
An article by Aref-Adib and Freeman-Wang in a journal known as The Obstetrician and Gynaecologist reflects, amongst other research, that the Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV) is necessary (but not sufficient) for cervical cancer and it is also a factor in other gynaecological cancers. The journal also outlines further pertinent information about cervical cancer, risk factors, and preventative methods which we would like to showcase in the hopes that it can inform those who are seeking details.
What is HPV?
The authors explain that “HPV is a double-stranded DNA virus that infects squamous epithelia, including the skin and mucosae of the upper respiratory and anogenital tracts”. In 2016, more than 120 types of HPV had been identified, and these are acquired not just through intercourse, but also through skin-to-skin contact. The lifetime risk of being infected is up to 80% in individuals who have been exposed to this virus. While prevalence of the virus declines with age in women, it can increase when their number of sexual partners are increased. Furthermore, persistent HPV infection is associated with different forms of cancer and occurs in 10-15% of women. However, infections can be caught early through regular cervical screening and can be prevented through vaccination.
What is cervical screening?
Primary cervical screening involves a Papanicalaou (or ‘pap’) smear test that detects abnormal cells known as cytology. Aref-Adib and Freeman-Wang explain that this involves “… the use of a brush to take a sample of cervical cells that is then placed in a preservative fluid in order to generate a suspension of cells”. This helps to detect who will benefit from undergoing secondary screening known as a colposcopy.
This secondary screening method aids in determining the appropriate management of women who have received abnormal cytology results, involves an examination through a microscope, and possibly a biopsy. The NHS Cervical Screening Programme (NHSCSP) offers cervical screening at age-dependant intervals.
What is HPV vaccination?
Aref-Adib and Freeman-Wang describe HOV vaccination as containing no DNA which leads them to be non-infectious, “… but are capable of inducing an effective immune response with the induction of neutralising antibodies that can block new HPV infection”. This vaccine was introduced in the UK in 2008 to prevent HPV in girls aged 12-13 with a programme that involves doing a catch-up programme for 14–18-year-old girls. Many trials have demonstrated the safety and efficacy of these vaccines and are anticipated to reduce the incidence of cervical disease and the morbidity associated with it.
The article concludes that the screening programmes available in the UK are successful and organized well, showing a reduction in a reduction of cervical cancer and mortality. Nevertheless, it is always best to consult your GP or gynaecologist for more details about what is appropriate for your physiology.