What’s more, there are about 14 million new infections each year.
But there is something that can be done to prevent this virus, which can evolve into cervical cancer in women as well as a variety of other types of cancers in both women and men.
There is a vaccine that ideally is given to both girls and boys at around age 11 or 12, before they even become sexually active and have the opportunity catch HPV.
The vaccine, which is available at the Monongalia County Health Department through its Clinical Services program, helps prevent the strains of HPV that cause about 90 percent of cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Getting the HPV vaccine is just one way to celebrate Cervical Health Awareness Month, which takes place in January.
In fact, the HPV vaccine helps prevent other types of cancers, including:
• cancers of the vagina and vulva in women (in addition to cervical cancer);
• cancers of the penis in men; and
• cancers of the anus and back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (oropharynx), in both women and men.
While the goal is to give the HPV vaccine to girls and boys at around ages 11 or 12, it can be administered up through the age of 26. For the younger recipients, the vaccine is two shots given six months to a year apart. Once a child is over the age of 14, three shots in a six-month period are required.
The HPV vaccine is a great way to help children avoid these types of cancers once they become adults. Another way to avoid cervical cancer is through the Pap test, which women should start getting at the age of 21 and continue at least through the age of 65. The Pap test looks for cellular changes in the cervix that could evolve into cancer. Woman with normal results generally should get the test every three years, although health care providers can offer a more specific schedule to suit each individual’s situation.
At the same time, the cells collected during the Pap test can be tested for HPV so that it can be monitored and treated.
In this day and age, there is no reason why any women should go without testing. To make things easier, the Monongalia County Health Department is a participant in the West Virginia Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program. The WVBCCSP provides clinical breast examinations, mammograms and Pap tests for eligible women, as well as diagnostic testing for women whose screening outcome is abnormal. The program helps woman who are uninsured or underinsured who meet income guidelines.
Because the early stages of cervical cancer often do not prompt symptoms in women, these preventative measures are important to take. In the latter stages of the disease, a woman might experience bleeding or discharge that is not her period.
Other ways to lower the risk of cervical cancer is to avoid using tobacco products, use condoms during sex and limit the number of sexual partners.
Cervical cancer is a disease that is very easy to prevent. Follow these steps so you can be around to celebrate Cervical Health Awareness Month for years to come.