Why is the impact of Cervical Cancer important to Albertans?
Cervical cancer is the 13th most common cancer among women in Alberta1.
About 135 women were diagnosed in 20122.
- Cervical Cancer and HPV: Cervical cancer is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a very common sexually transmitted infection. Over 7 out of 10 people who are sexually active will get HPV in their lifetime. About 15 high-risk types of HPV can cause changes in the cells of a woman’s cervix if the HPV infection does not go away. If these cell changes aren’t treated, they can develop into cervical cancer over many years.
- Screening: Getting Pap tests regularly is the best way to find cell changes early. Finding them early means they can be treated, if necessary – before they turn into cancer. To learn more about cervical cancer screening in Alberta, visit Screening for Life.
- HPV Vaccine: The HPV vaccine Gardasil® protects against two types of HPV that cause about 70% of all cervical cancer. The vaccine works best when given before sexual activity begins, before any exposure to HPV. The Alberta school-based immunization program offers the HPV vaccine free of charge to girls and boys. Young women and men may benefit from the HPV vaccine even if they have been sexually active. The vaccine may protect them from HPV types that they haven’t been exposed to yet. Visit our HPV vaccination page for details.
What can I do?
Experts in Alberta agree that we can prevent most cases of cervical cancer through a combination of HPV vaccination, safer sexual practices, and regular screening2. Here’s how:
- Talk to your health care provider about the HPV vaccine and whether it’s right for you.
- Limit the number of sexual partners you have because each new partner increases your risk of getting HPV.
- Condoms lower the risk of HPV. But, condoms can only protect areas of skin where the condom comes between each person. The virus may still pass when skin touches skin not covered by the condom.
- Choose not to have sex (i.e. any skin-to-skin contact in the genital area).
- Understand that sexual activity at a young age increases your risk of being infected with HPV.
- If you have ever been sexually active, you should have Pap tests regularly starting at age 21, or 3 years after becoming sexually active, whichever is later.
- Even if you have had the HPV vaccine, get a Pap test regularly. The vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer.
- Don’t smoke, and limit second-hand smoke exposure. Tobacco exposure in women with HPV increases the risk of cervical cancer.
Using birth control pills (oral contraceptives) is also linked to cervical cancer. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found that taking birth control pills increases the risk of cervical cancer3, especially in women who are taking or who stopped taking them in the last 10 years. On the other hand, IARC also found that taking birth control pills appears to lower the risk of both endometrial and ovarian cancer5.
It’s important for women to speak with their health care provider about their own and their family history of cancer and other health conditions if they’re thinking about taking birth control pills.
How to reduce your risk of Cervical Cancer
Early detection of breast, cervical and colorectal cancer greatly increases the chances for successful treatment.
Prevent HPV Infections
Almost 100% of cervical cancer cases are caused by infections of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Several other cancers can be caused by HPV too.
- 1. Surveillance and Reporting: 2012 Report on Cancer Statistics in Alberta. Edmonton: CancerControl AB, Alberta Health Services, 2015. Accessed at: http://www.albertahealthservices.ca/cancer/Page1774.aspx
- 2. Population Attributable Risk in Alberta Study – Learn more here.
- 3. International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans: Combined estrogen-progestogen contraceptives and combined estrogen-progestogen menopausal therapy. Lyon, France: IARC: 2007;91:1-528.