Did you know each year, nearly 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer? While that number may be high, one of the leading causes of cervical cancer is preventable. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a major cause of cervical cancer and may also lead to other cancers in both men and women such as,cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, throat, tongue, and tonsil cancers. HPV is an infection that spreads through sexual activity and is the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection. About 79 million Americans currently have HPV, but many people with HPV don’t know they are infected. Most HPV infections are harmless and are cleared naturally by the body in one to two years. There is no treatment for HPV but there are treatments for the problems HPV may cause, such as cervical cancer.
So what about the good news? Fortunately there is the HPV vaccine which can help prevent the majority of cancers that are linked to HPV. Prevention is important because most cancers associated with HPV do not have symptoms until they are in the late stage and treatment is difficult.
More good news is that cancer prevention is available to most people under 27. Preteens and teens (11-14 years old) only need two shots while teens and adults (15-26 years old) need three shots for cancer prevention. Both boys and girls should typically receive this vaccine starting at 11 years old. The goal is to immunize prior to any sexual contact to allow the body to build up immunity so it can fight off the virus. If the vaccine series is administered before the child’s 15th birthday only two doses are required. If both doses are not administered before then, 3 shots will be required. Girls can receive the vaccine until 27 and boys until 22, unless there are other factors:
- Young men who have sex with men, including young men who identify as gay or bisexual or who intend to have sex with men through age 26;
- Young adults who are transgender through age 26; and
- Young adults with certain immunocompromising conditions (including HIV) through age 26.
In addition, it is also encouraged that women get the appropriate screenings to further prevent cervical cancer. It is recommended that women should start getting regular screenings called Pap smears at age 21. A Pap smear looks for precancerous and cancerous cells on the cervix. Even though a Pap smear is not recommended until the age of 21, it is important for individuals to be seen by their provider once they decide to be sexually active. Women aged thirty and older with a history of normal Pap smears can have both Pap and HPV screenings done every 5 years.
Whether you are a preteen, teen, or young adult, there is no better time than now to protect yourself against cancer. Make an appointment to see your healthcare provider today!
For more information visit: https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/
Submitted by: Burnett County DHHS Public Health
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