Confronting The Myths Surrounding Cervical Cancer

More than 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer each year, and more than half of these cases occur in women who have never been screened or who haven’t been screened in the past five years. Spreading the facts and debunking these and other myths is important. Please help spread the word during January for National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and throughout the year.

Myth #1: I don’t need to get screened because cervical cancer doesn’t run in my family.

MythBuster: Most cervical cancers are caused by certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is spread by skin contact during vaginal, oral, or anal sex with someone who has the virus. HPV is so common that almost every sexually active person will get it at some time in their life if they have not had the HPV vaccine. Although HPV is very common, few men and women will go on to develop cancer. The lack of a family history of cervical cancer is not a predictor of cervical cancer and is not a reason to skip screening.

Myth #2: I don’t need to get screened because I don’t have any symptoms.

MythBuster: A screening test is done to find anything abnormal in otherwise healthy people who are not having any symptoms. When there are symptoms, a diagnostic test is done to find out the cause of the symptoms. Women with abnormal cervical cells aren’t likely to experience any symptoms. But abnormal cells can still be detected by screening. Women should not wait for symptoms to get screened. However, if you have any unexplained bleeding, don’t wait. See a doctor right away to find out why.

Myth #3: I don’t want to get screened because if I have cervical cancer it can’t be treated anyway.

MythBuster: Screening helps prevent cervical cancer. Screening finds abnormal cells on the cervix so they can be treated before they turn into cancer. It also helps find cervical cancer early, when treatment works best. Women who don’t get screened regularly miss the opportunity to detect abnormal cervical tissue early, when treatment is very effective.

Cervical cancer is preventable by screening and treating any abnormal cervical tissue early. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends:

  • Screening with a Papanicoloau (Pap) test every three years for women aged 21 to 65 years.
  • Screening with a Pap and HPV test every five years for women aged 30 to 65 years.

Learn more about cervical cancer and other gynecologic cancers, and get resources to share from DHEC’s Best Chance Network and  CDC’s Inside Knowledge: Get the Facts About Gynecologic Cancer campaign.

DHEC in the News: Flu

Here’s a look at health and environmental news from around South Carolina.

14 flu deaths reported in South Carolina

COLUMBIA, SC (WCBD) – The Department of Health and Environmental Control says three people in South Carolina died from the flu last week, raising the death toll for this season to 14.

Flu activity on the rise in South Carolina, other southern states

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The flu is now widespread in Alabama — and it’s expected to increase, federal health officials reported.

Alabama is among 19 states reporting high levels of influenza in a recent report to the Centers for Disease Control, Al.com reported.

General interest

US Flu Season Poised to Be Milder Than Last Year’s Harsh One

NEW YORK (AP) — It’s early, but the current flu season is shaping up to be gentler than last winter’s unusually brutal one, U.S. health officials said.

In most parts of the country, most illnesses right now are being caused by a flu strain that leads to fewer hospitalizations and deaths as the kind of flu that dominated a year ago, according to officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccines also work better against it, said the CDC’s Dr. Alicia Fry.

From Other Blogs: Stopping type 2 diabetes, understanding gynecologic cancers, ending health disparities & more

A collection of health and environmental posts from other governmental blogs.

Putting a stop to type 2 diabetes

Did you know that diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States? It is estimated that by the year 2020, 50 percent of Americans will either have diabetes or be pre-diabetic, but there is a way to prevent this.  — From Flourish, Palmetto Health’s blog

Let’s Help Women Understand: What We Need to Know About Gynecologic Cancers

Once upon a time, women were told to get a Pap test every year. And most of us did, even though it wasn’t always clear why we were being tested. We just did what we were told and thought it was a surefire way to stay healthy. But times and recommendations have changed about what test to have, how often to have it, and the reason to have it. — From the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) The Topic Is Cancer blog

Mission Possible: A Year in Review

As a long-time scientist and physician, I’ve treated patients in a range of environments – from U.S. cities and military bases, to sub-Saharan Africa and Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in 2010. Throughout those experiences, I saw firsthand the impact that health disparities could have on health outcomes. That’s why – even when treating single patients – it was important to always consider the social determinants of that individual’s health.

The inequity in health that we see across the world today remains one of the greatest social injustices of our time. Access to healthcare and behaviors is greatly influenced by social factors and environment, including housing, transportation, and education. As the nation’s leading public health agency, CDC plays a crucial role in promoting the practice of health equity, and I’m committed to seeing that CDC puts science into action to confront the gaps in health and the social determinants behind those inequities. — From the CDC’s Conversations in Equity blog

New HRSA Program Will Help Clinicians and Patients in the Fight Against Opioid Addiction

On December 27, 2018 HRSA launched a program that is critical to HHS’ response to the opioid crisis. This National Health Service Corps Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Progam will support the HHS Five-Point Opioid Strategy by increasing patient access to high-quality substance use disorder preventive, treatment, and recovery services. — From the US Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) blog

Superfood of the Month: Cauliflower

Cauliflower is considered one of the healthiest foods on Earth and with good reason. It has a rich supply of health-promoting phytochemicals, a high level of anti-inflammatory compounds, and the ability to ward off cancer, heart disease, brain disease and weight gain. There isn’t much cauliflower can’t do. — From Lexington Medical Center’s official blog

January is National Radon Action Month

This month is National Radon Action Month, and DHEC is encouraging all South Carolinians to test their homes for radon. Request your free home test kit today!

Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas that you cannot see, smell, or taste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that it is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. and the No. 1 cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.

Any home can have a radon gas problem. The only way to determine if your home is trapping radon is to test.

Quick Facts about Radon

  • Breathing in radon can change the cells in your lungs, which increases your chances for getting lung cancer.
  • Radon is responsible for 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the U.S.
  • Smokers who are exposed to radon have a much higher risk of lung cancer.
  • Elevated radon concentrations have been found across South Carolina.
  • Radon levels of 70.0 pCi/L and higher have been found in South Carolina.
  • Nearly one out of every 15 homes in the U.S. is estimated to have elevated radon levels.
  • Homes can be modified to reduce radon levels.
  • New homes can be built with radon-resistant features.
  • South Carolina has nationally certified radon professionals who can measure radon and fix homes with elevated radon.

The South Carolina Radon Program provides radon test kits to homeowners free of charge. Request your free home test kit at www.scdhec.gov/radon.

Leading Health Experts Emphasize Five Effective Ways To Prevent Birth Defects

Every 4 ½ minutes a baby is born with a birth defect in the United States. It doesn’t have to be that common. That’s why DHEC is joining with leading prenatal health experts from the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics, the March of Dimes, Teratology Society and MotherToBaby this month to increase awareness of five critical tips to reduce the chances of having a baby with a birth defect.

The National Birth Defects Prevention Month campaign theme, Best for You. Best for Baby,” aims to raise awareness about the infants born with birth defects in South Carolina each year. In 2017, 1,142 infants were identified by the SC Birth Defects Program as having a birth defect. While we can’t prevent all birth defects, the following steps increase a woman’s chance of having a healthy baby.

  1. Be sure to take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.
  • Folic acid is very important because it can help prevent some major birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine.
  1. Book a visit with your healthcare provider before stopping or starting any medicine.
  • There are often benefits to continuing treatment throughout pregnancy. Discussing a treatment plan before a pregnancy allows a woman and her health care provider to weigh the pros and cons of all options to keep mom and baby as healthy as possible.
  1. Become up-to-date with all vaccines, including the flu shot.
  • Having the right vaccinations, like the flu and Tdap vaccines, at the right time during pregnancy can help keep a woman and her baby healthy.
  1. Before you get pregnant, try to reach a healthy weight.
  • Obesity increases the risk for several serious birth defects and other pregnancy complications.
  1. Boost your health by avoiding harmful substances during pregnancy, such as alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
  • There is no known safe amount of alcohol that can be consumed during pregnancy and exposure to it can cause major birth defects.
  • Smoking during pregnancy can cause dangerous chemicals to damage the placenta and/or reach the baby’s bloodstream.
  • The opioid addiction epidemic has led to a sharp increase in Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), premature birth and drug withdrawal in developing babies.

According to Jason Salemi, PhD, MPH and president of the NBDPN, “Birth defects are a common cause of death in the first year of a baby’s life, but change happens through awareness.”

 How You Can Help

 DHEC encourages health advocates as well as the public to be an active participant in National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Follow and share #Best4YouBest4Baby messages on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin. The complete 2019 NBDPN Birth Defects Prevention Month information packet, including this year’s primary tips for birth defects prevention, “Best for You. Best for Baby. 5 Tips for Preventing Birth Defects,” is available online at: www.nbdpn.org/bdpm.php.

Additional Resources to Support Healthy Pregnancies

 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) strives to advance the health and well-being of our nation’s most vulnerable populations.

www.cdc.gov/birthdefects

 American Academy of Pediatrics

Dedicated to the health of all children, providing age-specific health information.

www.healthychildren.org

 MotherToBaby, a free service of the non-profit Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS)

Communicate directly with experts about exposures, like medications, vaccines and more during pregnancy and breastfeeding by calling toll free (866) 626-6847, texting questions to (855) 999-3525, live chatting or emailing at

www.MotherToBaby.org

The Teratology Society

An international and multidisciplinary group of scientists, including researchers, clinicians, epidemiologists and public health professionals from academia, government and industry who study birth defects, reproduction and disorders of developmental origin.

www.Teratology.org

March of Dimes

An organization aiming to make sure babies get the strongest start possible as well as reducing the rate of prematurity.

www.marchofdimes.org

The SC Birth Defects program is committed to improving birth defects prevention, research, and referrals in South Carolina. The program can be reached at scbdp@dhec.sc.gov.