Welcome to January, the month famous for the last vestiges of holiday cheer. "Happy New Year" we proclaim, with the hopeful caveat that it will be prosperous and healthy. Valid wishes, because as trite as it seems, all the riches in the world are useless without good health.
So far into January, I've made a shallow effort at taking that first, proactive step toward managing my wellbeing. I have promised the ladies on the second floor of my building that I will soon make my appointment for my mammogram and I've penciled in some exercise dates on my planner. The full, comprehensive annual checkup is still hanging in the TASK section of Outlook, but it has moved up to a priority position.
As we all know, prevention and early diagnosis is the key to dealing with cancer. This month, the Colors of Cancer Awareness month spotlights the teal/white ribbon and advises us to take note of cervical cancer, one of the easier cancers to diagnose. It is also one of the few cancers for which there is a vaccine.
Usually encountered in women over 50 and especially prevalent in Hispanic women, cervical cancer affects about 12,000 every year and happens when abnormal cells on the cervix grow out of control. It was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women, but over the last 30 years, the cervical cancer death rate has gone down by more than 50%. The main reason for this change was the increased use of the Pap test. This screening procedure can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops. It can also find cervical cancer early − in its most curable stage.
In addition to the Pap test, women are encouraged to add the HVP screening to their annual exam. Two new studies published in the journal Gynecologic Oncology find that screening for human papillomavirus infection alone provides more accurate results for both human papillomavirus infection and cervical cancer screening than the alternatives of a Pap or a co-test for these conditions.
You can't really talk about cervical cancer without stirring talk about the controversy surrounding the administration of the HPV (Human papillomavirus - a very common sexually transmitted virus) vaccine. FDA approved in 2006 under the name Gardasil, it protects against high-risk strains of HPV. The three-dose series is recommended as a routine vaccination for females aged 9-26 years old and for boys and men aged 11 to 21.
A new and improved version – Gardasil 9 – was recently introduced and has the potential to prevent approximately 90 percent of cervical, vulvar, vaginal and anal cancers caused by several types of HPV.
Given that kind of reassurance, why wouldn't one want to jump at the chance to reduce the risk of cervical cancer? Understandably, parents might wince at dialogue with their pre-teens about the reason for a vaccine to guard against this type of cancer, but it should be remembered that the vaccine isn't going to change their sexual behaviors, but rather protect them when they eventually engage in them.
Whatever your personal beliefs, it is very exciting to see in our lifetime a vaccine to prevent cancer. I would like to live long enough to see cancer prevention vaccines administered routinely at the local pharmacy, like the flu shot I keep promising to take or the tetanus I had last year after a nasty encounter with a rusty nail.
In a few days, January will become a memory and we will roll into February. Why not give yourself a valentine? Call and make that appointment for your checkup, your mammogram, and, especially, your GYN exam. Make that New Year wish for health and prosperity come true.
The standard cost for the treatment is now covered by most insurance companies and the cost for recipients under the age of 18 is only $10. For more information about the vaccine, contact Immunize El Paso at either of their two locations at 1580 George Dieter 857-2474 or 125 N. Glenwood at Fox Plaza 881-1100.
Patty Tiscareño is the Executive Director of the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation, the community's only local non-profit dedicated to reducing the burden of cancer on our citizens. For more information about programs and services, or to make a contribution, please read our vastly resourceful website.