Tomorrow is International Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Awareness Day and to mark the occasion, Cancer Council NSW’s Director of Research, Karen Canfell, is reminding everyone to do their part in eliminating this deadly disease.
Many women and men have HPV but what does this have to do with cervical cancer?
‘We know that HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer,’ says Ms Canfell. ‘Because we’ve been able to apply this to our national vaccination and screening programs, we’re closer than ever to eliminating this disease.
‘In fact, recent Cancer Council NSW research has found that Australia is on track to be the first country in the world to eliminate cervical cancer, by as early as 2035.’
What can you do?
Here’s five ways everyone can help make this goal a reality.
Vaccinate your girls and boys against HPV
Girls and boys aged up to 19 can receive two doses of the HPV vaccine free of charge as part of the National HPV Vaccination Program. Vaccination is offered to kids in schools at age 12–13, but teenagers who have missed out can also be vaccinated for free at a general practice and primary health care clinic up to the age of 19.
Eligible women (25–74 years) should participate in the screening program
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and regular screening is your best protection. The National Cervical Screening Program is free, safe and effective, yet still only 52% of eligible women in NSW are participating! Talk with your GP or visit your local health clinic to have the test.
Most cervical cancers occur in women who are overdue for screening. If you are overdue for your cervical screening test, you may be eligible for a self-collection test, ask your GP for more information.
Follow up abnormal screening test results
The Cervical Screening Test detects HPV, so a positive test doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer now. It’s important that you follow up with your health provider who will recommend the best next steps for you. Remember that it takes 10–15 years for cervical cancer to develop. Receiving abnormal results can be scary, but it’s crucial that you follow it up as almost all cervical cancers are preventable if abnormal cell changes on your cervix are caught and treated.
Know the signs of cervical cancer
It’s important to note that early changes in cervical cells rarely cause symptoms. However, if they develop into cervical cancer, the most common signs are: abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, pelvic pain and pain during sex. If you experience any of these symptoms, see your doctor immediately, regardless of age or the results of your most recent screening test.
Smoking cigarettes doubles your risk of developing cervical cancer. Chemicals in tobacco can damage the cells of the cervix and make cancer more likely to develop. These chemicals can also interfere with your body’s ability to clear HPV infections.
‘Eliminating one cancer could help set us on a pathway to a cancer-free future,’ says Ms Canfell.
To find out more about cervical cancer, please visit cancercouncil.com.au and click through to the cancer information section.
If you or a loved one needs support following a cancer diagnosis, please call 13 11 20 or visit: cancercouncil.com.au.