By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

Each January, the National Cervical Cancer Association (NCCA), part of the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), observes Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.

Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women, but the number of cases and deaths have declined over the past 40 years. This improvement can be attributed to two developments: the Pap test (or Pap smear) and the HPV vaccine.

Still, the NCCA notes more than 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in the United States, leading to more than 4,200 deaths.

"Science has given us incredible life-saving tools in the form of highly accurate screening tests and safe, effective vaccines. We have the means to prevent cervical cancer. The question is do we have the will?" ASHA President Lynn Barclay said in a statement. "Universal access to healthcare is a basic human right. It's heart-breaking and outrageous that one's ability to access care to prevent cervical cancer too often comes down to privilege and wealth."

In the December 2020 issue of OB/GYN Clinical Alert, Rebecca B. Perkins, MD, MSc, wrote about a study performed in Sweden, where researchers found receipt of the HPV vaccine before age 17 years was associated with an 88% decrease in cervical cancer, and vaccination at ages 17 to 30 years was associated with a 53% decrease in cervical cancer.

“This underscores the importance of completing vaccination in adolescence as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and also supports current catch-up recommendations to continue to vaccinate all individuals through age 26 years,” Perkins wrote. “As obstetrician-gynecologists, we can help reduce invasive cervical cancers by ensuring that our eligible patients ages 9 to 26 years receive vaccination, regardless of sexual activity, prior exposure to HPV, or sexual orientation. We also play a crucial role in educating our patients who are mothers about the importance of vaccinating their adolescent children.”

For more on this and related subjects, be sure to read the latest issues of Contraceptive Technology Update and Infectious Disease Alert.