January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, which makes it the perfect time to tell you how easy it is to prevent cervical cancer. Worldwide, cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women. This is very sad since it’s very treatable when detected early.
Almost 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. The only way to detect it is through a Pap test. You may have heard that the Pap guidelines have been updated recently. This has caused some confusion since although you may not need the actual Pap test (the collection of cells that are analyzed in a lab) you do still need to be seen annual for manual palpation of your ovaries and breast exam. Remember, early detection saves lives.
99% of cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is extremely common, with about 79 million Americans with it at any time. The good news is that HPV is highly preventable, thereby making cervical cancer highly preventable. Girls AND boys should receive the HPV vaccine at age 11. Yes, well before they’re sexually active and yes, boys need it too. The vaccine produces a stronger response if received before age 14 and only two doses are needed (three are required after age 14). If you or your child didn’t get it as a tween, you can still receive it up to age 26. Boys need it because HPV can cause many other types of cancer in addition to cervical, including penis, anus, throat, etc.).
To summarize, cervical cancer is treatable when detected early and better yet, it’s very preventable. Check with your primary care provider to see if you and your children are on schedule for your Pap and HPV screenings and HPV vaccine.