January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, a perfect opportunity to raise awareness about how you can protect yourself from HPV (human papillomavirus) and cervical cancer. Each year, more than 11,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer. HPV is a very common infection that spreads through sexual activity, and it causes almost all cases of cervical cancer. About 79 million Americans currently have HPV, but many people with HPV don’t know they are infected.
There is good news though! HPV can be prevented by getting the HPV vaccine, and cervical cancer can often be prevented with regular screening tests and follow-up care.
Cervical Cancer Screening Tests
There are two tests that help prevent cervical cancer or aid in detecting it early – the Pap test and the HPV test. The Pap test, or Pap smears, look for precancers. This would be cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if not treated appropriately. The HPV test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.
The first Pap test you get should be at the age of 21 – if your test result is normal you can wait three years for your next test. But if you are over the age of 30, you have a few different options you can choose from:
- You can continue to get a Pap test only. If your results are normal, you can proceed to wait three years for the next test.
- You can get an HPV test only. If you have a normal test result, you can wait 5 years for your next test.
- You can both an HPV and Pap test. If you have normal test results, you can wait five years for your next tests.
The human papillomavirus vaccine protects again HPV types that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. The vaccine is recommended for both boys and girls who are 11 or 12 years old. Children as early as 9 and until the age of 26 can receive the vaccine.
Having the vaccine helps lower your risk, but it is still important to get tested. Thanks to the health care reform law, you and your family members may be able to get these services at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to learn more. Taking small steps can help keep you safe and healthy. Speak with your doctor today about HPV vaccines and cervical screening tests.
Community Care Physicians OB/GYN services
Community Care Physicians is proud to offer several OB/GYN services around the Capital Region that can help assist you in your cervical health. For more information on our services, contact our Concierge Care Coordinator at (518) 782-3800.