With January marking Cervical Cancer Awareness month in the USA now is a good time for to get informed and get checked.
Although every year more than 12,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and about 4,000 die from it, cervical cancer is highly preventable with regular screening tests and can be cured if found early and treated.
Florida International University has provided some expert information on what everyone needs to know in an effort to prevent the disease.
- "Almost all cervical cancers are caused by a type of HPV (human papillomavirus), a very common infection that can be passed from one person to another during sex," says Dr. Juana Montero, a gynecologist at FIU Health and Student Health Services.
- It's estimated that about 79 million Americans have HPV but many don't even know they're infected, as most people never develop symptoms.
- In most cases the infections go away by themselves, but when they don't they can become more serious, causing several types of cancers in both men and women including cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, throat, tongue, tonsils and penis.
- "Fortunately, we have vaccines against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers and genital warts," Montero says, with the CDC recommending that preteen girls and boys get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12.
- However, women up to age 26 and men up to age 21 can still get the vaccine, with Montero encouraging college-age students, men and women who were not vaccinated as children to do so.
- As well as preventing HPV through vaccination other steps can also be taken including practicing safe sex, limiting your number of sexual partners, and not smoking.
Regular testing can also help prevent cervical cancer.
- The Papanicolau test (or Pap smear) looks for pre-cancers, which are cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if not treated properly.
- The HPV test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.
- Both tests can be performed by your doctor at the same time. Montero says women should start getting Pap tests regularly at age 21. A Pap/HPV co-test is recommended for women 30 and over.