Early detection saves lives

27 Oct 2009 | Marine Cpl. Jessica L. Martinez

Many years ago, cervical cancer was the leading cause of cancer death in women, but over the past 40 years that statistic has significantly decreased  due to more women getting regular pap tests.

Although it is no longer the leading cause of death in women, it is still a primary concern for Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune. Therefore they will be hosting a cervical and breast exam clinic Oct. 19 through 22, from 8 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3:30 p.m. The clinic will also run Oct. 23, from 8 to 11:30 a.m. This 20-minute walk-in session is open to all active duty, retirees and family members who have Tri-care and who need to receive their annual women’s cervical and breast exams.

Cervical cancer is mainly caused by the human papillomavirus, but it can be prevented by women regularly getting screenings as well as a vaccine to prevent HPV infections. HPV is a common sexually transmitted disease. There are 40 different types that affect the sex organs of both men and women. Although most of the time HPV will go away on its own, some types will cause cervical cancer.

The HPV vaccine protects against the four types of HPV that cause the most cases of cervical cancer.

“All women are at risk for cervical cancer,” as stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. “It occurs most often in women ages 30 years and older. In 2005, there were 11,999 women in the U.S. who were told they had cervical cancer, and 3,924 died from the disease. It is important to get tested for cervical cancer because six of 10 cervical cancers occur in women who have never received a pap test or have not been tested in the past five years.”

Cervical cancer is the easiest female cancer to prevent with regular screening tests and follow-ups.

“Early detection is the key,” said Phyllis MacGilvray, assistant program director with Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune Family Medicine Residency. “A single test can prevent or detect cervical cancer.”

There are different things women can do to help prevent cervical cancer such as limiting their number of sexual partners, using condoms, delaying first intercourse as long as possible and avoiding smoking, said MacGilvray.

She also commented on when women should start getting their first pap and when they should stop.

“Three years following their first sexual intercourse or at age 21 women should get their first pap,” she said. “When a woman is 65 years or older, if her tests were normal or following a hysterectomy that was done for other than cancer related reasons, a woman can stop getting a pap.”

Cervical cancer is rare in teens and women in their early 20s. It is more common in women who are in their 30s or older.

“I see more cases of (cervical cancer) in women age 30 or older because it has been five or more years without a pap or they’ve never once had a pap,” said MacGilvray. “Women should get an annual pap until age 30, but at the minimum get a pap at least every three years. Early detection is the key here that is the reason for the free clinic.”

For more information about cervical cancer or HPV visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site at For more information about the cervical and breast exam clinic or to make an appointment, call 450-4481.