Cervical Cancer Awareness Month
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month
Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is an opportunity to raise awareness about how women can protect themselves from HPV (human papillomavirus) and cervical cancer. HPV is a very common infection that spreads through sexual activity, and it causes most cases of cervical cancer. About 79 million (1 in 4) Americans currently have HPV, and many people with HPV do not even know they are infected. Each year, more than 11,00 women in the U.S. get cervical cancer.
Did you have a Pap test or a pelvic exam?
Screening can detect early signs of cancer, and certain treatments can prevent the development of more invasive cervical cancer. Many women misunderstand the difference between a pelvic exam and a pap smear. A pelvic exam involves the provider examining the external and internal reproductive organs, and a Pap test (sometimes called a “Pap smear”) is a specific test performed and sent to a lab to check for abnormal cells on the cervix. Do not assume that just because a provider used a speculum that a Pap test was performed. Women should start having Pap tests when they turn 21, and they do not need to be sexually active in order to begin getting Pap tests. If you had surgery called a “hysterectomy” to remove your uterus, ask your provider if you need to keep having Pap tests. When women turn 30, their providers may suggest another test, an HPV test, to be done at the same time as the Pap test. Don’t worry, the additional HPV test is done the same way with taking cells from the cervix just as the Pap test.
So I’ve heard about an HPV vaccine…..
The HPV vaccine (Gardasil-9) helps keep people from getting infected with the virus. The vaccine can help you or your loved one from getting an HPV infection. Being infected with HPV increases the chances of not only cervical cancer, but other cancers including vaginal, penile, anal, mouth, and throat cancer, as well as genital warts. Most people do not have symptoms when they get infected with HPV, and often times, the infection will get better on its own. BUT, in some people, the infection does NOT go away. People younger than 15 should get 2 doses at least 6 months apart, and people over the age of 15 should get 3 doses over 6 months. Most providers recommend getting the HPV vaccine at ages 11 or 12, but it can be given to anyone (boys and girls) from the ages 9 to 26. It works best if it is given before the person is infected with HPV, and the vaccine won’t cure an infection a person already has. That’s why it is important to get vaccinated before sexual activity begins. There are over 100 different types of HPV, and the vaccine does not protect against all different types; therefore, it is important to continue with your annual exams and Pap tests even if you have been vaccinated.
So what next?
· Schedule your next annual well woman exam
· Ask your provider when your last Pap test was and what were the results
· Ask about the vaccine and see if Gardasil-9 will work for you
· Talk to your pediatrician about vaccinating your son or daughter at the right time
Feldman MD, et al. Screening for cervical cancer. Up-to-date Inc. www.uptodate.com/contents/screening-for-cervical-cancer (Accessed on January 09, 2018.)