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. HPV is an infection that spreads through sexual activity and is the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection (STI). Condoms can help decrease the risk of STI exposure. 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? Cervical cancer can be prevented with a vaccination and appropriate screenings. BMC encourages:
- Parents to make sure pre-teens get the HPV vaccine, Gardasil 9, at age 11 or 12. 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 teens and young adults didn’t receive it as pre-teens, it can still be given up until the age of 26.
- Women to 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 30 and older with a history of normal Pap smears can have both Pap and HPV screening done every 5 years.
Taking small steps can help keep you safe and healthy.
Submitted by: Debra Hammer, BMC Certified Nurse Midwife
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