Many gynecologic cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and could be prevented with HPV vaccinations.
Renown Health recommends HPV vaccinations for both boys and girls starting at age 11, although it's safe in patients as early as age nine. Vaccination at an earlier age creates a higher production of protective antibodies. Vaccination should be given before age 26 and before exposure to HPV occurs.
For more information about HPV vaccinations, call 775-982-5000.
HPV is so-named because it causes small wart-like growths (papillomas) on the skin and mucous membranes. The virus affects both men and women and is incredibly prevalent; in the United States, more than one in four people are infected and about 14 million become infected each year. It's spread by skin-to-skin contact, usually during intercourse.
Many papillomas heal on their own. However, when papillomas persist and grow out of control they can become cancerous. According to the CDC, HPV causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer.
HPV's Role in Other Cancers
While HPV is most commonly associated with gynecologic cancers, both men and women can become infected, and both men and women can develop HPV-related cancers. The virus can also cause cancer in the penis, anus, the back of the throat, base of the tongue and tonsils.
All women are at risk for gynecologic cancer. However, there are other factors that increase a woman's risk.
- Age: The risk of developing gynecologic cancer increases with age.
- Family history: Having relatives who have had gynecologic cancer increases your risk.
- Genetic factors: Ten to 15 percent of gynecologic cancers develop because of a genetic predisposition.
- Obesity: Overweight women are more likely to develop gynecologic cancer.
- Not having children: The more children you have, the less likely you are to develop ovarian cancer.
- Early first menstruation.
- Endometrial hyperplasia.
Not everyone who meets the risk factors develops gynecologic cancer. However, if you do meet the risk factors, Renown recommends a formal assessment with your health care provider.
The Pap test, or Pap smear, is used to test the cervix (the opening to the uterus) for cancer. During the test, you will lie on your back with your legs apart and feet in support stirrups. The doctor will insert a device into your vagina to keep it open. Then he or she will scrape cells from the cervix and send those cells to the lab for testing.
Pap tests are usually performed as a part of a woman's annual exam. However, depending on your age, you may not need a Pap test every year.