Beating Cervical Cancer in Oklahoma

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Beating Cervical Cancer in Oklahoma

Each year in the US, approximately 4,000 women die of cervical cancer, and 13,000 new cases are diagnosed. The CDC reports that of all of the cervical cancer deaths, Black women have the highest rates, and Hispanic women are most likely to develop cervical cancer. However, cervical cancer can be eradicated and women need not die of it.

The overall rate of cervical cancer is on the decline in the US, but in Oklahoma, particularly in rural communities, the cases are increasing. Debra Richardson, M.D., gynecologic oncologist from OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center, explains that lack of access to healthcare could mean that rural Oklahomans are experiencing a higher cervical cancer mortality rate. Those in communities with limited access to healthcare and screening are being diagnosed with metastatic cervical cancer.

Dr. Richardson explains that the US has seen a decrease in cervical cancer cases due to the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine which was introduced over 10 years ago, teamed with cervical screening. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the country and can be spread by vaginal, anal or oral sex, or even with intimate non sexual contact, with someone who already has the virus. HPV can be passed on even though you or your partner have no symptoms. HPV can go away on its own within a couple of years without any health problems or symptoms, but in some cases, it can cause genital warts or dysplasia (abnormal cells, precancerous) and cancer. Everyone who is infected with HPV is at risk of developing health problems.

Rates of Cervical Cancer in Oklahoma

Despite the HPV vaccine and regular screening reducing cervical cancer rates across the nation, the rate of Oklahomans taking the vaccine are low. “Our HPV vaccine rate is 48th out of 50 in the nation and for screening we are number 45 out of 50,” Dr. Richardson said. “Oklahoma rates tenth for cervical cancer rates and we have more than a 50% increase in mortality in all races in Oklahoma.” The age-adjusted cervical cancer mortality rate in the US is 2.2 per 100,000 women, and in rural Oklahoma it is 3.8 per 100,000 women, age-adjusted. Sadly, the highest rate of cervical cancer in Oklahoma is American Indians at five for every 100,000 women. Dr. Richardson points to the lack of access to care being the primary issue for these alarming rates.

What Dr. Richardson wants women need to know about prevention and treatment of cervical cancer:

  1. Get the HPV Vaccine

There are two types of vaccines available: Gardasil 4 and Gardasil 9. The HPV vaccine helps protect against types of HPV that can lead to genital warts and cancer. HPV types 16 and 18 cause 70% of cases of cervical cancer. Research reveals that if you have all of the HPV shots years prior to commencing sexual contact, the chances of getting cancer and genital warts caused by HPV are reduced by up 90%.

Gardasil Schedule:

  • If under the age of 15 you will need two shots
  • If over the age of 15 you will need three shots

Dr. Richardson confirms that Gardasil 4 and Gardasil 9 are approved for boys, girls, men and women from the ages of nine to 45, but warns that sometimes insurers won’t cover the vaccines for anyone over the age of 26. Check with your insurance company first, but don’t let this stop you from scheduling those shots.

  1. Be Diligent with Cervical Screening

Cervical screening should start at the age of 21 and repeated at least every three years until the age of 30. There are multiple options for cervical cancer screening, which determine the interval of screening. Check with your doctor about the screening guidelines and ensure you’re following up as recommended.

The HPV vaccine is helping decrease overall cervical cancer incidence and mortality. Those at the greatest risk are those who have not been vaccinated against HPV and have not had their cervical cancer screening. See your doctor today for more information and help Oklahoma eradicate cervical cancer. No woman should die from this cancer.