January is Cervical Health Awareness Month! Nearly 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, but the disease is virtually always preventable with vaccination and appropriate screening (Pap and HPV tests).
What is Cervical Cancer?
- Cervical cancer is a cancer that starts in the cervix, the narrow opening into the uterus from the vagina. It occurs when abnormal cells on the cervix start to grow out of control. Cervical cancer can often be treated if found early through a Pap test.
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
- Most Cervical cancers are caused by a virus called Human Papillomavirus, or HPV. You can get HPV by sexual contact with someone who has it. There are many types of the HPV virus, not all of them cause cancer.
Preventing Cervical Cancer
- The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that may become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately. You should start getting Pap tests at age 21.
- The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. It is recommended for preteens (both boys and girls) aged 11 to 12 years, but can be given as early as age 9 and until age 26. The vaccine is given in a series of either two or three shots, depending on age. It is important to note that even women who are vaccinated against HPV need to have regular Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer.
- Getting an HPV vaccine
- Testing for HPV
- Not smoking
- Condom use