Cervical Health Awareness
Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States. However, in the past 40 years, the number of cases of cervical cancer and the number of deaths from cervical cancer have decreased significantly. Still, more than 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer each year, but the disease is preventable with vaccination and appropriate screening.
Almost all cervical cancers are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) which is a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex. There are many types of HPV. Some types can cause changes on the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer over time, while other types can cause genital or skin warts. HPV is very common and most people are exposed to it at some time in their lives. HPV usually causes no symptoms and for most women, HPV will go away on its own. If HPV persists however, there is a chance that over time it may cause cervical cancer. It is for these reasons that all women are at risk for cervical cancer though very few women will actually develop it.
REDUCING YOUR RISK
1. Get regular screening tests
-The most important thing you can do to help prevent cervical cancer is to have regular screening tests beginning at the age of 21. The two screening tests are the Pap smear and the HPV test. The Pap smear can detect early cell changes or precancerous changes that may become cervical cancer if not treated appropriately.
-Some women may be eligible for free or low-cost screening. Please click this link from the CDC to get additional information https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp/screenings.htm
- Follow this link for testing guidelines https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/pdf/guidelines.pdf
HPV vaccines can help prevent infection from both high risk HPV types that can lead to cervical cancer and low risk types that cause genital warts. The vaccine is recommended for preteens aged 11 to 12 years old but can be given starting at age 9. If vaccination is started before age 15 a two-dose schedule is recommended. For those who are age 15 or older, a full three dose series is needed. The HPV vaccine is also recommended for everyone through age 26, if not vaccinated already. For people ages 27 through 45 who have not been vaccinated, the vaccine is available after speaking with their doctor about their risk for new HPV infections and the possible benefits of vaccination. Vaccination of people older than 26 provides less benefit as more people have already been exposed to HPV. Even if you have received the vaccine, you should still get screened for cervical cancer regularly.
3. Lifestyle measures to reduce risk for cervical cancer
- Use condoms during sex*
- Limit your number of sexual partners
*HPV infection can occur in both male and female genital areas that are covered or protected by a latex condom, as well as in areas that are not covered. While the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HPV infection is unknown, condom use has been associated with a lower rate of cervical cancer.