January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Each year, more than 11,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer. Black and Hispanic women are the hardest hit by this disease. Whittier Street Health Center wants you to know that there’s a lot you can do to prevent cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is caused by certain oncogenic (cancer-causing) strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted infection. About 79 million Americans currently have HPV, but many people with HPV don’t know they are infected. Most women with healthy immune systems effectively eliminate HPV infections. Only a small fraction of women with persistent HPV infection will develop cervical abnormalities that lead to cancer. There are more than 30 types of the HPVs; most cases of cervical cancer, however, are caused by types 16 and 18.
The good news?
- The HPV vaccine (shot) can prevent HPV and lower the risk of you developing cervical cancer.
- Cervical cancer can often be prevented by detecting pre-cancerthrough regular screening pap tests (cervical pre-cancer can often be treated and the progression to cancerprevented).
In honor of National Cervical Health Awareness Month, Whittier Street Health Center encourages:
- Women to start getting regular pap tests at age 21.
- Parents to make sure pre-teens get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12. It is most effective if given long before a woman becomes sexually active, and that is why it is recommended for 11-year-olds to receive it. These vaccines are nearly 100% effective in protecting females who have not already been exposed to the types of HPV covered by the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has determined that the vaccine is safe. The most common side effect is soreness in the arm where the shot is given.
The vaccine has the potential to prevent more than 4,000 women from dying of cervical cancer each year. Teens and young adults also need to get the HPV vaccine if they didn’t get it as pre-teens. Women up to age 26 and men up to age 21 can still get the vaccine.
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.
For more information, visit www.wshc.org.