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January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 14,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year.

As with most cancers, prevention and early screening are important, since the disease is preventable with appropriate screening and vaccination.

HPV or human papillomavirus is the most common sexually-transmitted disease in the United States, and almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV infection. Hence, the vaccines that protect against HPV can help prevent most cases. In addition, regular pap tests can detect and help treat HPV at the precancerous stage.

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month, and for us at Physicians Premier, it is a perfect opportunity to raise awareness about HPV vaccination and encourage women to get screened.

Screening Tests

The Pap test and HPV test are both screening tests that can help detect, prevent, and treat cervical cancer.

  • The HPV test checks for the virus that can cause cervical cancer.
  • The Pap test checks for precancers or cellular changes in the cervix that have the potential to cause cancer if left untreated.

Options for screening

A woman can get screened for cervical cancer starting at age 21. Those with a normal Pap test will be typically advised to get screened again after three years.

Women between 30 to 65 have 3 screening options. Discuss with your health provider which option is right for you.

  • HPV test only – those with normal results will be most likely advised to wait 5 years before their next screening.
  • HPV + Pap test – those with normal results will most likely wait for 5 years until their next screening test.
  • Pap test only – the doctor may advise for a repeat screening after 3 years if the result is normal.

HPV vaccine

The human papillomavirus vaccine protects against HPV – the virus that causes cervical cancer. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommendations on all vaccinations in the US, which includes HPV vaccination. The current recommendations are:

  • Ages 9-26 – HPV vaccination is routinely recommended and vaccination can be given starting at 9 years of age.
  • Ages 27-45 – HPV is not recommended for this age group. However, those who have not been vaccinated can discuss their options with their doctor about the possible benefits of vaccination and their risk for new HPV infections. Keep in mind that vaccination for HPV at this age provides fewer benefits.

This Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, let’s all help spread the message of the importance of cervical health. HPV vaccination helps prevent new infections. However, it does not treat existing diseases or infections, so it works best when administered before exposure to the virus. It is also important to get regularly screened for cervical cancer, even if you have already received the vaccine.

Sources:

“Cancer Stat Facts: Cervical Cancer,” National Cancer Institute, https://seer.cancer.gov/
“HPV test,” National Cancer Institute, https://www.cancer.gov/
“Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP),” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/