Dr. Bradley J. Monk, Associate Professor of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of California Irvine, discusses the incidence and causes of cervical cancer.
BRADLEY J. MONK, MD: So, one of the most common questions asked is, “How common is cervical cancer?”
Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of cancer among women worldwide and the third most common cause of cancer-related death among women, only behind breast and lung cancer.
In this country, cervical cancer is less common, with approximately 11,000 new cases annually and about 4,000 deaths. So, although many of the cases have been in the developing world, in the developed world such as the United States, cervical cancer is still a significant problem affecting, or killing if you will, more than ten women a day.
Women begin getting the virus when they begin sexual contact, generally in their teenage years or twenties. And so they get the virus in their twenties, they get pre-cancer, sometimes called dysplasia, in their thirties, and then the average age of cervical cancer is in the mid-40s, maybe 45. And then if it’s not correctly treated, you’re at risk for dying of cervical cancer, 50, 55, and so on. But the average age of cervical cancer is in the mid-40s – but the average age of being infected by the virus parallels sexual debut and the onset of sexual activities as a general rule.
Who are more likely to become chronic carriers? There are some ethnic differences. It’s hard for us to understand why Asians, for example, are more likely to become chronic carriers. It’s certainly not related to promiscuity. The only environmental agent that has been definitively shown to increase the attack rate, if you will, of the virus, is smoking. So this is one of the cancers that smoking causes. Then again, all cervical cancers are caused by HPV, at least over 99%.
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