January is Cervical Health Awareness Month
The United States Congress designated January as Cervical Health Awareness Month. 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.
HPV and Cervical Cancer
Cervical Health Awareness Month is a chance to share information about how women can protect themselves from HPV (human papillomavirus) and cervical cancer. HPV is a very common infection that spreads through sexual activity, and it causes almost all cases of cervical cancer.
What Can You Do?
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 CDC recommends all boys and girls get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12 as the vaccine produces a stronger immune response when taken during the preteen years. For this reason, up until age 14, only two doses are the vaccine are required. The vaccine is available for all males and females through age 45 but, for those 15 and older, a full three-dose series is needed.
A Pap test can find cell changes to the cervix caused by HPV. HPV tests find the virus and help healthcare providers know which women are at highest risk for cervical cancer. Pap and HPV tests (either alone or in combination) are recommended for women over 30: each woman should ask her health care provider how often she should be screened and which tests are right for her.
How can Cervical Health Awareness Month make a difference?
We can use this opportunity to spread the word about important steps women can take to stay healthy. Here are just a few ideas:
Inform and Encourage
Encourage women to get their well-woman visit this year. Cervical cancer can often be prevented with regular screening tests.
Let women know that most insurance plans must cover well-woman visits and cervical cancer screening.
Parents and Kids
Talk to parents about how important it is for their pre-teens to get the HPV vaccine. Both boys and girls need the vaccine.