What Women Don't Know May Be Hurting Them

National Women's Health Resource Center Urges Education, Screening in Time for Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month

The National Women's Health Resource Center (NWHRC) is urging women to become educated about their risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and get screened for cancers that can result from untreated STDs.


STDs are rampant in the U.S. One in five people currently has an STD, at least one in three sexually active people will contract an STD before the age of 25 and women are disproportionately affected. Unfortunately, since most women are less likely to experience symptoms of STDs, they are unlikely to be diagnosed until serious complications occur. This is especially true of Human Papillomavirus (HPV), the most common STD in the U.S. HPV is often asymptomatic but it has been proven that HPV may be the leading cause of cervical cancer.

"Certain behaviors by women may put them at an increased risk of contracting HPV and, subsequently, developing cervical cancer. For example, smoking, multiple sexual partners or a partner with multiple sexual partners and sexual intercourse at an early age increase a woman's risk of developing cervical cancer. And activities such as binge drinking, which could lead to multiple sex partners, can potentially increase a woman's risk of contracting an STD," said Amy Niles, President and CEO of the National Women's Health Resource Center. "I would encourage all women to take control of their sexual health-sit down with their partners, honestly assess their risk factors and get screened for cervical cancer."

According to Mary Hunt, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the New York University School of Medicine, even women in long-term monogamous relationships should not discount the importance of cervical cancer screening, as they may also be at risk for STDs.

"Couples shouldn't forget that even if they both tested negative for STDs before beginning a sexual relationship with each other they may be putting each other at risk unknowingly," said Dr. Hunt. "And, because HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact rather than through the exchange of fluids, condoms cannot fully protect against the disease. Women need to take this into account to decrease their risk of developing cervical cancer."

Cervical Cancer Screening

Even with widespread access to cervical cancer screening, the American Cancer Society estimates that there will be approximately 12,200 new cases of invasive cervical cancer in the U.S. this year, and one third of these women will die from the disease.

Women need to be aware that there are a number of different screening methods available to help in the detection of cervical cancer and make sure to get screened. Cervical screening using the Pap smear, including new liquid based cytology, HPV DNA testing and speculoscopy (a visual examination of the cervix) using a special chemiluminescent light for vaginal illumination all decrease the risk that a woman will develop invasive cervical cancer because abnormalities will generally be detected when treatment is still a possibility.

"Cervical cancer is a serious disease, but if it's caught early, it's one of the most successfully treated cancers," said Dr. Hunt. "Women should talk to their doctors about how to obtain the most accurate screening possible and what screening option might be best for them."

About The National Women's Health Resource Center

The National Women's Health Resource Center is the nation's leading independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to educating women of all ages about health and wellness issues. Its programs include an award-winning newsletter called the National Women's Health Report, public education campaigns and its Web site, fmxhosting.com/drupal635, a one-stop shop for women's health on the Web.

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For more information:
Beverly Dame, 888-406-9472
bdame@healthywomen.org

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