January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women.

The most important things you can do to help prevent cervical cancer are to get vaccinated against HPV, have regular screening tests, and go back to the doctor if your screening test results are not normal.

Each year, nearly 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States. Yet cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers today.

Early detection is the key. Starting at age 21, women should be screened with a Pap test. Then beginning at age 30, women should be tested with both a Pap test and an HPV (human papillomavirus) test.

Cervical cancer is linked to infection with HPV. Genital HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.

Most people who become infected with HPV do not know they have it. Usually, the body’s immune system gets rid of the HPV infection naturally within two years. By age 50, at least 4 out of every 5 women will have been infected with HPV at one point in their lives. HPV is also very common in men, and often has no symptoms.

The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that cause about 90% of cervical cancers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend vaccination at ages 11-12, but men and women can be vaccinated up to age 45. HPV vaccine also is recommended for everyone through age 26 years, if they are not vaccinated already.

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.

For more information about services available at the Dorchester County Health Department:

• Cervical cancer screening: 410-228-3223, x175

• HPV vaccines, 19+: 410-228-3223, x175

• HPV vaccines, 18 and under: 410-228-0235