The month of January is dedicated to promoting awareness about women’s cervical health, which is an extremely important issue for all women to understand. In honor of Cervical Health Awareness Month, today we’re participating by sharing information to raise awareness on prevention, including: how to prevent cervical cancer, HPV vaccination (human papillomavirus), as well as pap and HPV tests.
Thanks to the work of the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, Congress designated January as Cervical Health Awareness Month. It’s a huge step toward preventing the deaths of almost 13,000 women in the United States who are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year.
Cervical cancer 101
The goods news is even if the number of cases of cervical cancer remains steady, the cervical cancer death rate has dropped thanks to early detection with screening tests like Pap tests. But sadly, out of the 13,240 women who are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer, 4,170 women will die from it. Other facts on cervical cancer include:
- Cervical cancer is most frequently diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44.
- It rarely develops in women younger than 20.
- Many older women do not realize they’re still at risk of developing cervical cancer.
- More than 15% of cases of cervical cancer are found in women over 65.
That’s why it’s important to support Cervical Health Awareness Month for yourself and the women in your life – both young and old.
Understanding HPV Types
As a mother with teenage sons, I began hearing about HPV 10 years ago when the vaccination was introduced in the UK. My pediatrician talked to me about it because they were recommending the vaccination for my boys when they got older. I was slightly embarrassed, but back then, I had never heard of it.
HPV is actually a sexually transmitted disease (STD). What’s interesting about it is studies indicate anyone who is sexually active has probably had it during the course of their lives. In fact, “HPV is so common that nearly all men and women get it at some point in their lives.” This includes young adults who are sexually active. Studies indicate 80% of adults and young adults will get HPV in their lives.
What makes HPV confusing
The disease is transmitted like other STDs through intimate skin-to-skin contact, which means you can “get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. It is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex.”
The confusing thing about HPV is you can be infected and not know it, as some people do not present symptoms. Others notice symptoms years after they’ve been infected. What’s even more interesting about HPV is it can go away by itself without treatment. In instances were HPV does not resolve, it can lead to serious health care issues such as cervical cancer.
Prevention can save lives
HPV is a group of 150 related viruses. These various types of HPV can cause different things if they do not go away on their own like genital warts or cancer including cancer of:
HPV infection can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils.
Recently, the recommendation for the potentially life-saving HPV vaccination has been expanded for both women and men ages 27 – 45. HPV vaccinations begin at age 11 or 12, which is why this vaccination can be a controversial or touchy subject for many parents.
Be an informed parent
If you’ve haven’t seen the national advertising campaign for HPV vaccination, it features commercials with boys and girls speaking directly to the camera and asking their parents what they know about prevention.
It’s quite an emotional plea, stirring up strong feelings of guilt and calling for action. But because many parents don’t fully understand HPV, some are reluctant to get the vaccination for their children. Some worry it’s a green light for sexual activity. Others worry the HPV vaccination is potentially dangerous, which isn’t a concern in the medical community.
This is another reason why Cervical Health Awareness Month is critically important: parents need to be informed so they can make decisions for their children’s future. Talking with your primary care physician or your child’s pediatrician is the best place to start. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Speaking from experience, my children are both old enough to get the vaccination, so I read up on the topic myself just a few months ago. And I did end up asking my pediatrician all sorts of questions.
Why raising awareness counts
As with any condition or illness, the medical community is constantly improving guidelines to better protect against HPV, HPV infection and cancers. For example, in August 2018, sweeping changes were made to cervical cancer screenings guidelines to help more women and to work more seamlessly with primary care providers.
If you haven’t taken the step to get smart about HPV, January is the perfect month to do it. Whether it’s getting the vaccination for yourself or your children, it’s easy to get answers to your questions and alleviate your concerns about this national health concern. If you’ve been diagnosed with HPV or cervical cancer, you can find resources and information designed to address your specific needs to make sure you live a happy and healthy life.
What questions do you have about cervical cancer and HPV?
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