Young Women Unaware How to Avoid Cancer “Down There”

Friday, January 29, 2010

Young women still don’t understand the importance of cervical cancer screening, a recent report indicates. Various health advocates are taking steps to combat this lack of awareness during Cervical Health Awareness Month.

(WOMENSENEWS)–Alison Borochoff-Porte has never missed an annual visit to her gynecologist. The 21-year-old Barnard College student gets regular cervical cancer screenings and has been vaccinated against the human papillomavirus.

She believes all women her age should do the same.

“I really hope that young women are going to the gynecologist,” said Borochoff-Porte. “At the very least, you need an annual exam.”

But a significant number of young women still do not understand the importance of cervical cancer screening, according to a national survey released in mid-January by the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, a national organization of gynecologic oncologists based in Chicago. In fact, young women feel they know more about the hottest new music than they do about reproductive health. Past studies have shown similar results.

Several health organizations have launched Web campaigns to increase cervical cancer awareness in the month of January, designated by Congress as Cervical Health Awareness Month.

Better education is necessary, as it will help reduce the number of preventable deaths from the disease, women’s health experts agree.

Cervical cancer is a slow-growing cancer most often caused by human papillomavirus, or HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. More than 11,000 American women were diagnosed with cervical cancer last year. The diagnosis rate is low among young women age 19 to 25–about 1.6 per 100,000 U.S. females, according to the National Cancer Institute–but concern remains high. More than 4,000 women died last year of the disease.

Simple Cancer-Prevention Test

Most, if not all, of these cervical cancer deaths could have been prevented with a simple screening test that detects abnormal cervical cells before they turn into cancer. Since its introduction in the 1940s, the Pap test has reduced the incidence of the disease by more than 70 percent. Still, cervical cancer remains the second most common cause of cancer death in American women ages 20 to 40.

Young women seem to be largely misinformed about cervical cancer, according to the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation survey of 1,006 females between the ages of 19 and 25. Some 85 percent of survey respondents said they did not believe they are currently at risk for cervical cancer. Two-thirds of the women did not think they were at risk for the HPV infection, even though the infection is common in this age group.

Nearly a quarter of the surveyed women said the Pap test had never been explained to them. About 1 in 5 thought the test was designed to detect ovarian cancer.

“The sheer magnitude of the lack of knowledge was surprising,” said Linda Miller, the foundation’s cervical cancer campaign specialist. “Lately there has been a lot of discussion about HPV among young women in this age group. We were amazed by the inadequate amount of information out there.

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.