ASCP Initiatives Lead the Way in Cervical Cancer Prevention
Monday, January 7, 2013
The threat of women contracting cervical cancer in the United States is under control, but this virulent disease continues to be the No. 1 cause of cancer deaths among women in sub-Saharan Africa. ASCP—which is strongly focused on addressing women’s health worldwide—recognizes January as Cervical Health Awareness Month. Over the next month, the Society will be writing about its initiatives to help improve the quality of laboratory medicine in resource-limited countries to prevent HIV/AIDS, cervical cancer, and other deadly diseases.
“It’s wonderful that ASCP places such emphasis on women’s health, and cancer in particular, at home and around the world. We need to continue to educate the public about this disease and how to prevent it, if we are to improve the quality of women’s health worldwide.”
—Rebecca Horvat, PhD
“It’s wonderful that ASCP places such emphasis on women’s health, and cancer in particular, at home and around the world,” says ASCP member Rebecca Horvat, PhD, Professor of Pathology at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, Kan. “We need to continue to educate the public about this disease and how to prevent it, if we are to improve the quality of women’s health worldwide.”
Each year, about 15,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer, one of the most common cancers of women's reproductive organs. The number of deaths is rare in the United States because so many women have regular Pap tests. Early detection increases the chances of successful treatment.
Yet halfway around the globe, patients in sub-Saharan Africa have few cervical cancer screening services. Many patients, when diagnosed, are already in the late stages of the disease. The high prevalence of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is associated with cervical cancer, exacerbates this situation. Additionally, women who are HIV-positive are four to five times more likely to develop cervical cancer.
Most people who become infected with HPV do not know they have it. HPV infection can be acquired when a person becomes sexually active if his or her partner has the infection. Most of these infections are cleared, and the infected person has no symptoms. However, persistent HPV infections are associated with the abnormal growth of cells that can become malignant or cancerous.
“Prevention is the most successful strategy for controlling genital HPV infections,” Dr. Horvat says. “The most successful strategy to control cervical HPV is a well designed vaccine. The bivalent HPV vaccine (Cervarix) targets both HPV 16 and 18, which are associated with 70 percent of cervical cancers.”
The presence of HPV in women can be detected with a variety of diagnostic tests, such as detecting specific pathological changes in host cells or the presence of specific antibodies. These tests are not specific enough to determine the type of HPV. Thus, the most common test used to detect and type HPV is the detection of HPV-specific nucleic acid in an adequate specimen. The specimens tested are collected by swabs, brushes, or scrapings from a cervical site. Testing has shown that the highest prevalence is in females between the ages of 20 and 24.
“Going forward, we want to continue to focus on prevention, using vaccines, particularly in young adults,” Dr. Horvat says. “Second, there are women—even in this country—who do not have access to the vaccine or to screening due to their lack of insurance. We need to find a way to ensure that all women have access to regular screening.”
Read more here.