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Malamalama’aga o le Kanesa

Doctors cannot explain why one woman develops cervical cancer and another does not.  However, we do know that a woman with certain RISK factors is more likely to develop cervical cancer.

A risk factor is something that may increase your chance of developing a disease.

Studies have found a number of factors that may increase your risk of cervical cancer. These factors may act together to increase the risk even more:

1.      Human Papillomavirus (HPVs):  HPV infection is the MAIN risk factor for cervical cancer according to the National Cancer Institute.  HPV is a group of viruses that can infect the cervix and are very common.  These viruses can be passed from person to person through sexual contact.  Most adults have been infected with HPV at some time in their life.  Some types of HPV can cause changes to cells in the cervix.  These changes can lead to genital warts (sores), cancer, and other problems.  Doctors may check for HPV even if there are no symptoms.

  If a woman has an HPV infection, her doctor can discuss ways to avoid infecting other people.  The Pap test can detect cell changes in the cervix caused by HPV.  Treatment of these cell changes can prevent cervical cancer.  There are several treatment methods, including freezing or burning the infected tissue. 

2.      Lack of regular Pap tests:  Cervical cancer is more common among women who do not have yearly Pap tests beginning at age 18 through age 70.  The Pap test helps doctors find pre-cancerous cells.  Treating pre-cancer cervical changes often prevents cancer.

3.      Weakened immune system (the body’s natural defense system):  Women with HIV infection or who take drugs that lower the immune system have a higher than average risk of developing cervical cancer.  For these women, it is suggested that they be screening regularly for cervical cancer.

4.      Age:  Cervical cancer is most common in women over the age of 40.

5.      Smoking cigarettes: Women with an HPV infection who smoke cigarettes have a higher risk of cervical cancer than women with HPV infection who do not smoke.

6.      Using birth control pills for a long time:  Using birth controls pills for 5 or more years may increase the risk of cervical cancer among women with HPV infection.

Women who think they may be at risk for cancer of the cervix should discuss this concern with their doctor.  They may want to ask about a schedule for checkups.  A woman over 40, who smokes, doesn’t have a Pap test done once a year, and who has had sexual contact with someone has a higher RISK.  A combination of risk factors increases your probability of developing cervical cancer increases.

If you have one or more of the RISK FACTORS listed above, you should definitely schedule a Pap test today.  Get checked – “e sili le mautinoa i lo’o le taumatemate.” It’s better to know and take care of it.  Ignoring symptoms and continuing risky behavior will result in suffering for you, your family, and your loved ones. 

All women, from the age of 18 years and older, should perform a Pap test once a year.  These are available, FREE, through the American Samoa Breast and Cervical Early Detection Program.  Call them today at 633-2135 to make an appointment.