January is a month of new beginnings, new opportunities, and a time to make lasting, healthy changes. For women, routine check-ups are essential for not only preventative healthcare but reproductive care. Part of reproductive wellness includes annual cervical screenings to check for abnormal changes to the cells on the cervix. January is recognized as National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. You can lower your risk by starting cervical cancer screenings at 21 years of age.
According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, “Each year, more than 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States. Yet cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers today. In most cases, cervical cancer can be prevented through early detection and treatment of abnormal cell changes that occur in the cervix years before cervical cancer develops.”
What You Can Do – The Center for Disease Control recommends the following:
Two tests to help prevent cervical cancer or find it early—
- The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, which are cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.
- The human papillomavirus (HPV) test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.
You should get your first Pap test at age 21. If your test result is normal, you can wait three years for your next test.
If you’re 30 years old or older, you have three options
- You can continue getting a Pap test only. If your test result is normal, you can wait three years for your next test.
- You can get an HPV test only. If your test result is normal, you can wait five years for your next test.
- You can get both an HPV and Pap test together. If your test results are normal, you can wait five years for your next tests.
The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical cancers. HPV can also cause other kinds of cancer in both men and women.
- HPV vaccination is recommended for preteens aged 11 to 12 years but can be given starting at age 9.
- HPV vaccine also is recommended for everyone through age 26 years if they are not vaccinated already.
- HPV vaccination is not recommended for everyone older than age 26 years. However, some adults age 27 through 45 years who are not already vaccinated may decide to get the HPV vaccine after speaking with their doctor about their risk for new HPV infections and the possible benefits of vaccination. HPV vaccination in this age range provides less benefit, as more people have already been exposed to HPV.
HPV vaccination prevents new HPV infections but does not treat existing infections or diseases. This is why the HPV vaccine works best when given before any exposure to HPV. You should get screened for cervical cancer regularly, even if you received an HPV vaccine.
Remember, cervical cancer is preventable with early detection. Schedule your annual PAP smear or HPV exam today. For free/low-cost Pap testing across the United States, click here.
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