Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

cervical cancer awareness month

Cervical cancer was once a leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States. Today, screening and prevention have greatly reduced the impact of this form of cancer. Still, nearly 14,100 women in the United States received a diagnosis of cervical cancer and nearly 4,300 died from the disease last year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Increasing screening and prevention are key components of the effort to eradicate cervical cancer. Since almost all cases of the disease are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, vaccines that protect against the virus could prevent the vast majority of cases. Moreover, regular Pap tests can catch – and lead to the treatment of – the disease at the precancerous stage. 

Cervical cancer is among a number of cancers that can be caused by infections with pathogens – bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

Read Cervical Cancer: Advances in Prevention, Screening, and Treatment on the AACR Blog, Cancer Research Catalyst, to learn more about the prevention, screening, and treatment of this type of cancer.

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.

What is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is a disease in which cancer cells arise in the cervix, which connects the uterus to the vagina. HPV is almost always the cause of cervical cancer, which is why vaccines against the virus are an important part of cervical cancer prevention strategies. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three vaccines – Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix – that prevent infection with certain subtypes of HPV including 16 and 18, two high-risk HPVs that cause some 70 percent of cervical cancers. 

In a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), researchers investigated the types of HPV infections in 12,514 women aged 15 to 45 and found that the seven subtypes of the virus targeted by Gardasil 9 accounted for about 91 percent of the most advanced cervical precancers, meaning that Gardasil 9 could prevent nine out of 10 cases of cervical cancer.

“If vaccination programs with this new-generation vaccine are effectively implemented, approximately 90 percent of invasive cervical cancer cases worldwide could be prevented, in addition to the majority of precancerous lesions,” said senior author Elmar A. Joura, MD, an associate professor of gynecology at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria.

But there is a lack of public awareness and adherence to vaccination programs in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccination for girls and boys ages 11 to 12. 

A 2015 article in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention reported on a national survey that found many pediatricians and primary care physicians communicate about HPV vaccination in ways that may discourage parents from getting their children vaccinated. 

“We are currently missing many opportunities to protect today’s young people from future HPV-related cancers,” said Melissa B. Gilkey, PhD, the article’s lead author and an assistant professor of population medicine at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute in Boston. 

Usually, cervical cancer develops slowly over time, and another powerful preventive measure is Pap test screening, a procedure during which cells are collected from the surface of the cervix and examined. The Pap test can both detect cancer at an early stage, when treatment outcomes tend to be better, and detect precancerous abnormalities, which can then be treated to prevent them from developing into cancers.

What the AACR Is Doing in The Area of cervical cancer research

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is currently supporting three scientific grants in this area, two under the Beginning Investigator Grant for Catalytic Research (BIG Cat) Initiative and one through the Victoria’s Secret Global Fund for Women’s Cancers Career Development Award, in Partnership with Pelotonia & AACR. Researchers are studying evolving genetic factors for cervical cancer in women of African ancestry, epigenetic biomarkers of anal HPV infection in women with cervical HPV, and the feasibility of adjuvant topical therapy for cervical precancer treatment.