Cervical Cancer Awareness Month starts with HPV prevention
Jan. 11, 2023
By Katie Minor
It’s the start of a new year: a time for self-improvement and reflecting on goals. One goal you might have for the new year is to stay healthier by eating well and exercising. But overall health means so much more.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, reminding individuals that maintaining a healthy lifestyle means taking steps to prevent cancer. And preventing cervical cancer might be easier than you think.
Each year, more than 13,200 people are diagnosed with cervical cancer, a cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. More than 4,200 die from the disease every year.
Cervical cancer can occur in anyone who has a uterus, but there are a few things that could put some at a higher risk than others.
You might be at a higher risk if you…
- Are over 30 and have an HPV infection that hasn’t been cleared.
- Began having sex at an early age.
- Have multiple sexual partners.
- Have used birth control pills for five or more years.
- Have a weakened immune system.
- Are overweight or obese.
- Have a close relative who had cervical cancer.
- Were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth.
- Do not have regular cervical cancer screenings.
Cervical cancer used to be one of the most common causes of cancer death among women in the United States — that is, until about 50 years ago, when a test called the Pap smear was introduced.
Since then, the rate of death from cervical cancer has dropped dramatically.
A Pap smear, also called a Pap test, is a procedure in which a small brush is used to gently remove cells from the surface of the cervix and the area around it, which are then checked under a microscope for cervical cancer or cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer.
A Pap test may also help find other conditions, such as infections or inflammation. You can get a Pap test while also being tested for HPV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
HPV (human papillomavirus) is the leading cause of cervical cancer, with 99.7 percent of cervical cancer cases being caused by HPV. Another reason cervical cancer deaths have dropped dramatically is due to the introduction of the HPV vaccine. The easiest way to prevent cervical cancer is with this vaccine.
HPV can cause other types of cancers, too – like throat cancer, which tennis player Martina Navratilova recently announced she had been diagnosed with. Navratilova’s throat cancer was caused by HPV, reminding us of the importance of HPV vaccines, no matter how healthy you may be.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for males and females, and is most effective between the ages of 9 and 12 years old.
But it’s also recommended up to the age of 26 and also can be given to individuals ages 27-45 depending on conversations patients have with their health care providers. While the vaccine is less effective when given to adults, it can still be beneficial in protecting against HPV infection.
You can call MCHD Clinical Services at 304-598-5119 to make an appointment.
You may feel you don’t have to worry about cervical cancer because of how preventable it has become. The thing is, it’s only preventable if you prevent it! This means seeing your primary care provider or OB/GYN regularly.
Remember — the best cancer prevention is HPV vaccination and screenings!
Katie Minor is the public information office assistant at Monongalia County Health Department.