Sampson County still sits at the top across North Carolina for annual incidences of cervical cancer per capita — a figure that has initiated efforts by the local Health Department to spread cervical cancer awareness.
Each year, more than 350 North Carolina women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and over 100 died from the disease. In Sampson County, the number of those diagnosed is between 10 and 17 each year, according to statistics provided by the State Cancer Profiles (2010-2014).
Through the local Health Department and the Sampson County chapter of the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program (BCCCP), healthcare officials are working to educate women and, at the same time, help to decrease those numbers.
Throughout the month of January, the BCCCP Advisory Board promotes the “Teal Ribbon Campaign” as a way to spread awareness of cervical cancer. The teal ribbons are to be worn as a reminder for all women to get cervical screenings.
According to Luke Smith, health educator for the Sampson County Health Department, the agency offers many programs for women, ages 21 or older, which includes pap screenings, education and information about the deadly disease. This is all part of the department’s initiative to raise cervical cancer awareness.
“Prevention is extremely important,” she stressed. “Cervical cancer screenings can help detect abnormal (changed) cells early, before they turn into cancer. Almost all cervical cancer deaths could be prevented by routine pap tests and appropriate follow-up of abnormal screening results.”
The cervical cancer rate across North Carolina, including Sampson County, is nothing short of staggering, so, Smith and other officials with the Health Department are stressing the importance of being aware and taking action.
The American Cancer Society estimated that in 2017, approximately 12,820 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed, and approximately 4,210 women will die the disease.
According to the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics, it is anticipated that 399 females in North Carolina will be diagnosed with — and 126 females will die from — cervical cancer in 2017. These numbers, Smith noted, are alarming, therefore the Health Department wants to do its part in helping prevent a disease that is almost 100 percent curable if diagnosed in the early stages.
Cervical cancer, Smith explained, is preventable. According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, there are two ways to help prevent cervical cancer.
“First, prevent pre-cancers by avoiding risk factors,” Smith noted. “Young women can delay starting to have sex until they are older. Women of all ages can protect against HPV by having few sexual partners and not having sex with people who have had many partners.”
Additionally, the advancements that have been made in healthcare have allowed vaccines to help protect women from cervical cancer, by getting the HPV, human papillomavirus, vaccine.
“There are now vaccines that can protect people against HPV. Right now vaccines are only used to prevent, not treat, an HPV infection. HPV vaccines are available and recommended for both males and females ages 9 to 26. In addition, all women should have routine pap screenings beginning at age 21.”
Having regular checkups, with a pap screening, Smith added, is another good way to detect cervical cancer early.
“Most deaths from cervical cancer could be avoided if women had regular checkups with the pap test,” Smith stressed. “The pap test is a quick and simple, generally painless, test that can detect abnormal cells and changes in the cervix. The pap test is done in a doctor’s office or clinic during a pelvic exam.”
Smith noted that there are factors that increase the risk of developing cervical cancer. Some strains of the HPV virus are high risk and can cause cervical cancer or abnormal cell changes of the cervix.
“Cervical cancer is more common among women who do not have regular pap tests,” Smith said. “The pap test helps doctors find precancerous cells. Treating precancerous cell changes often prevents cancer.”
Cervical cancer is also more common in women who have HIV or a weakened immune system, are over 40 years of age, have had many sexual partners, who smoke, have used oral contraceptives for a long period of time and for those who have a family history of cervical cancer.
“Cervical cancer may run in some families,” Smith noted. “If your mother or sister had cervical cancer, your chances of developing the disease are increased by two or three times.”
With Cervical Cancer Awareness month coming up, Smith said it’s time to raise awareness about how women can protect themselves against HPV and cervical cancer.
“HPV is a common sexually transmitted disease and a major cause of cervical cancer,” Smith said. “The Health Department will spread the word about important steps women can take to stay healthy by stressing the importance of screenings and by encouraging all women to get screened regularly.”
Healthcare officials recommend all women to talk with their doctor about having pap tests after they reach 21 years of age and they should have them done every three to five years.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.