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YWCA of Gr. Lawrence Raises
Awareness for Cervical Cancer
Vilma Lora

YWCA of Gr. Lawrence Raises Awareness for Cervical Cancer Vilma Lora   January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, with the goal of educating and empowering women across America to visit their clinician for an annual Pap test and pelvic exam. Vigilance on the part of women about early detection through cervical cancer screening is crucial because cervical cancer, caught early, is nearly 100 percent curable.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that approximately 10,370 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be reported in 2005, and 3,710 will die from this disease. 

On the positive side, research indicates that the number of deaths from cervical cancer has decreased significantly since 1955 and mortality rates have dropped 50% to 70%, due to the increased use of Pap tests—a test developed by Dr. George N. Papanicolaou over sixty years ago to find cervical cancer.  This is great news! 

Socioeconomic factors and ethnicity continue to play a role in the incidence and mortality rates of cervical cancer.  Research shows that individuals from underserved populations are more likely than the overall U.S. population to be diagnosed with, and die from, preventable cancers or cancers that are curable, be diagnosed with late-stage disease for cancers that are detectable at an early state through screening, receive either no treatment or inadequate treatments that do not meet the standards of care, and suffer from terminal cancers in the absence of ade-quate pain control and other palliative care. 

African-Americans have higher overall cancer incidence and mortality rates compared to other groups. While Hispanics/Latinos have lower incidence and death rates from cancer compared with those of African-American and Caucasians, they do experience higher rates for certain cancers, particularly cervical cancer.

Since cervical cancer is preventable, and even curable if detected in its early stages, it is important to learn what are the risk factors associated with this disease. 

In addition to socioeconomic status, cervical cancer is strongly associated with sexual history.  Women who had sexual intercourse before the age of 18, have had multiple sex partners, whose partners have had multiple sex partners, or who have been pregnant more than five times starting at an early age, are at risk for developing this disease.  In fact, researchers have identified HPV (human papillomavirus), a sexually transmitted infection, as the main cause of cervical cancer. 

HPV infections are very common.  While there is currently no cure or treatment for this infection, it usually disappears without any treatment if the woman’s immune system is successful at fighting the virus.  Moreover, most women with HPV infection do not develop cervical cancer. 

Smoking is another risk factor associated with cervical cancer.  Women who smoke are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer.  This is attributed to the many harmful chemicals (carcinogens) contained in tobacco by-products, which are absorbed by the lungs and carried into the bloodstream throughout the body, including the cervix. 

Additional risk factors include the ex-tended use of oral contraceptives, a diet low in fruits and vegetables, exposure to DES (Diethylstilbestrol), a hormonal drug pre-scribed between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriages, and family history of cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer rarely causes symptoms in its early stages. This cancer is not detected unless a woman receives a pelvic exam and a Pap test.  Unfortunately, symptoms usually appear when the disease has become invasive. 

Symptoms may include bleeding after intercourse, between menstrual periods, and/or after menopause, heavy or extended menstrual flow, unusual discharge of the vagina, and pains in the lower part of the abdomen, not related to menstruation.  All of these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than cervical cancer; only a health care professional can determine the nature of the condition.

The good news is that, unlike other cancers, cervical cancer generally grows gradually.  Cells in the cervix undergo changes that range from normal to pre-cancerous, to cancerous.  These changes are referred to by several terms, including dysplasia, and vary from low to high grade.
There are some steps women can take to prevent cervical cancer including not smoking, delaying sexual intercourse, and limiting the exposure to HPV and other sexually transmitted infections through the use of condoms. Condoms, however, are not completely effective at protecting the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

Most invasive cervical cancers are found in women who have not had regular Pap tests.
The need for women to receive regular pelvic exams and a Pap test cannot be overstressed.  Pap tests should begin three years after the onset of sexual intercourse, but no later than the age of 21, or as recommended by a physician.

It is a fact that minority, medically under-served women are at higher risk for developing diseases, including cancer.  Free cancer screening services are available in Massachusetts to eligible, low-income, uninsured/underinsured Mass. residents through the Department of Public Health Women’s Health Network (WHN).  For more information, call 1-877-414-4447. 

Local agencies, such as the YWCA of Greater Lawrence, provide education, advocacy, support, and referrals to help educate and link uninsured/underinsured women in the greater Lawrence and entire northeastern Mass. area.  To determine eligibility for WHN services, call the YWCA of Greater Lawrence at (978) 687-0331.

In conclusion, women need to become educated about their health and take a more pro-active approach to preventive measures.  Early detection is the best protection any woman can have.  Let’s pledge to increase awareness about cervical cancer not only in January, but throughout the year!

Sources: The American Cancer Society, for more information on cervical and other types of cancer, please call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2435 or visit their website.  To learn more about YWCA resources, visit www.ywcalawrence.org.

YWCA of Greater Lawrence/Mass. Dept. of Public Health, Women’s Health Network Training Institute Peer Education Program—Program Manual for Peer Leaders, National Cancer Institute.

Vilma Lora is the Director of Women’s Services at the YWCA of Greater Lawrence.  Program services are made possible through funding from The Gillette Co., The Mass. Dept. of Public Health, The Boston Affiliate of Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, The McCarthy Foundation and Alfred E. Chase Charity Foundation.

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The January, 2006 Edition of the Valley Patriot
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