Cervical Cancer Update

As Cervical Health Awareness month comes to a close, NPWH Director of Education, Susan Rawlins, MS, WHNP-BC, NP, shares an update on the state of Cervical Cancer and new resources for clinicians.

How prevalent is cervical cancer and what do we know about it now?

Cervical cancer remains a serious concern in the U.S. and around the world. While the death rate has decreased due to strides in preventing and diagnosing the disease, it is still the third most common cancer for women worldwide.[1] 13,000 cases of invasive cervical cancer were diagnosed in the US in 2017.[2]

We know that no one event causes cervical cancer. Some of the events or conditions known to increase the risk of cervical cancer are:

  • the HPV virus,
  • smoking tobacco,
  • having a family history of cervical cancer,
  • having had a chlamydia infection,
  • being overweight,
  • or having a diet low in fruits and vegetables.

We, as practitioners, take these and other risk factors into account when seeing patients and providing well women care.

How do we prevent and screen for cervical cancer?

The HPV vaccine is a critical first line defense against cervical cancer. Since 2006, when the FDA approved the first HPV vaccine, we have been recommending it for girls starting at age 11 or 12. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices expanded that recommendation 2011 to include boys.

The CDC estimates that increasing HPV vaccination rates from the current levels to 80% would prevent an additional 53,000 future cervical cancer cases among girls now aged 12 years or younger.

You can read our latest HPV position statement here.

In addition to prevention, improved screening tests have helped us diagnose sooner and fight cervical cancer more effectively. These tests can check for cervical cancer, the cell changes that lead to cervical cancer, or for the HPV infection.

The two most common screening tests are the cervical cytology test (Pap test) and the hrHPV test.  The current preferred method of screening for cervical cancer is with co-testing – collecting cervical cytology and HPV screening at the same time. We recommend co-testing because it can identify 70% of cervical cancers missed by screening with HPV alone.[3]

Recently, the U.S. Preventative Task Force came out with draft recommendations that could impact women’s access to co-testing. NPWH and many women’s health leaders are making our voices heard and trying to ensure women have access to the best health care information and services to live long, happy, and productive lives. Check back on our website for updates soon.

How can clinicians stay on the cutting edge of preventing, screening, and treating cervical cancer?

As the only national professional nurse practitioner organization focused on women’s health, NPWH provides professional continuing education for NPs and other clinicians caring for women. We presented an HPV vaccine update at our 2017 annual conference, and it can be accessed online now.

There are over 50 continuing education activities in our online E-Learning portal. Our mission is to ensure high quality health care to women by women’s health nurse practitioners and other nurse practitioners who focus on women’s health. We hope you will take advantage of our online resources or join us at our conferences this year!

[1] National Institutes of Health. NIH Fact Sheets: Cervical Cancer. https://www.report.nih.gov/nihfactsheets/viewfactsheet.aspx?csid=76). Updated March
29, 2013. Accessed December 18, 2017

[2] American Cancer Society. “What Are the Key Statistics About Cervical Cancer?” https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/about/key-statistics.html. Updated January 5, 2017. Accessed December 18, 2017

[3] Blatt AJ, et al. Comparison of cervical cancer screening results among 256,648 women in multiple clinical practices. Cancer Cytopathol. 2015;123(5):282-288. doi:10.1002/cncy.21544. (Study included ThinPrep, SurePath, Hybrid Capture 2 Assay)