Fox NFL sportscaster and Dancing with the Stars co-host Erin Andrews has revealed she recently battled cervical cancer. While the TV host underwent surgery and her condition fortunately appears to be under control, her diagnosis may leave you wanting to know more about the disease.
Every year, more than 12,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer. The cause is frequently HPV (human papillomavirus), the most common sexually transmitted infection in the country. It often has no symptoms, but some people can experience pelvic pain or irregular bleeding.
It’s Largely Preventable
Cervical cancer can potentially affect any woman – but it doesn’t have to.
“In most cases, cervical cancer is preventable because we have an effective vaccine,” Dr. Brown says. Two shots can prevent the vast majority of HPV-related cancers, including cervical cancer.
Dr. Brown says that getting the HPV vaccine is the best way to prevent cervical cancer. The vaccine is recommended for both girls and boys, and it’s approved for those between the ages of 9 and 26.
“It’s safe, it’s nearly 100% effective, and it has minimal side effects,” says Dr. Brown, whose own daughter and son have both been vaccinated.
It’s also essential that women get annual care from a gynecologist, including screening for cervical cancer and the precancerous changes that can lead to it.
“We can detect pre-cancerous changes with a simple exam and Pap smear, and take care of it before it can progress into cancer,” she says. Since Pap smear testing began, doctors say they’ve seen the number of cervical cancer cases drop by a whopping 70 percent.
Early Screening Makes a Difference
There are big benefits to catching cervical cancer early. Caught in time, a woman’s fertility can often be preserved, and any needed surgery can likely be done in a minimally invasive way.
“When we catch it early, women can be cured and get back to their daily lives quickly,” says Dr. Brown.
But when it’s detected late, it’s not as easily treated – and each year, more than 4,000 women die as a result.
“Again, prevention is the key,” whether that’s through the HPV vaccine or though annual gynecologic care, says Dr. Brown.
You Can Take Action to Fight Cervical Cancer
First, consider getting the HPV vaccine for yourself or your child.
If you’re a woman, it’s also important to get a regular Pap smear starting at age 21. You can get them at a visit with your doctor or gynecologist.
And know that doctors continue to make advances in treatment, says Dr. Brown. “Here at Levine Cancer Institute, we offer clinical trials for women with advanced cervical cancer,” she says. “We’re making progress in the fight.”