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Cervical cancer is preventable with immunization and robust screening.

Cervical cancer kills hundreds of Canadian women every year. With the right screening, immunization, treatment, and support, we could bring that number down to virtually zero. Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection in Canada. And HPV is both vaccine-preventable and treatable.

“Cervical cancer is preventable,” emphasizes Dr. Kathleen Decker, a Scientist with the Research Institute in Oncology and Hematology at CancerCare Manitoba. “There are three key strategies used to prevent cervical cancer: immunization using the HPV vaccine, screening, and treating women who have an abnormal screening test.”

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Better screening means earlier diagnosis

Modern cervical cancer screening is more robust than the pap smear most people are familiar with. Advances in screening technology have made it possible to test for high-risk HPV strains directly. “HPV testing and HPV immunization have been valuable innovations in the prevention, early detection, and management of the precursors of cervical cancers,” says Dr. Nathan Roth of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at University of Toronto.“The results of HPV testing help determine what steps should be taken and what treatments to give to prevent cervical cancer from occurring.”

These advances are particularly important because detecting cervical cancer or precancer at the earliest stages is one of the biggest predictors of survival. “Earlier detection has had a major impact on the cervical cancer death rate in Canada and other countries with widespread cervical cancer screening programs,” says Dr. Leah Smith, Senior Manager of Surveillance at the Canadian Cancer Society. “In Canada, the cervical cancer death rate has dropped at least 70 percent since the 1970s. This is primarily due to the success of widespread screening.”

A literal vaccine against cancer

If we continue to build upon this success, cervical cancer could potentially go the way of polio and smallpox. “We stand on the edge of a historic achievement, the elimination of cervical cancer. It’s a global commitment, one that we in Canada can achieve within a single generation, thanks to all the groundwork laid over the past many years,” says Dr. Jennifer Blake, CEO of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. “It will take vaccination, which we know is safe and effective, organized screening with HPV testing, and early treatment at the pre-cancerous stage. Today.”

The most important thing you can do to protect yourself against preventable cancer is to talk to your health care provider. Ensure that you’re immunized and ask if there’s more complete screening available than what you currently receive. It could save your life.

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