The United States Congress voted January Cervical Health Awareness Month. Each year, nearly 13,000 women get cervical cancer. Fortunately, it is preventable, but you have to take your health into your own hands.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes nearly every case of cervical cancer. Nearly 80 million Americans have HPV, but many do not know they have it. Fortunately, we can take decisive action against cervical cancer.
A vaccine can prevent HPV infection. Both boys and girls should get the shot in their pre-teen years. The vaccine produces a stronger immune response during these years. After the age of fourteen, three doses of the vaccine are required to produce resistance. Women and men may take the vaccine up to 45 years of age.
Boys can both pass the infection on to girls and in turn girls can infect boys. While boys do not have a cervix, HPV can cause penile and anal cancer in men.
Condoms are an important part of cervical health. Skin-to-skin contact can transmit HPV. While condoms are not a guarantee of prevention, they are an important part of HPV prevention. Abstinence of all sexual contact, or monogamous sex with an uninfected partner, are the only guaranteed ways to avoid infection by HPV.
Women should get a well-woman visit each year. A woman can still prevent cervical cancer, even if she already has HPV. Regular screening tests and follow-up care are essential.
A screening during the well-woman visit will detect any abnormal cells on the cervix. A lab will test the cells to determine if they are cancerous. Proper care after the visit virtually eliminates the possibility of death due to cervical cancer. Doctors recommend that every woman over 30 get the screening test.
Most insurance plans cover screenings and well-woman visits. Depending on what insurance you have, you might be able to get your well-woman visit free of charge.