January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, and there’s a lot people can do to prevent cervical cancer. HPV (human papillomavirus) is a very common infection that can cause cervical cancer. About 79 million Americans currently have HPV, but many people with HPV don’t know they are infected.1
Each year, more than 11,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer.1
What Are the Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer?
Almost all cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex. There are many types of HPV. Some HPV types can cause changes on a woman’s cervix that can lead to cervical cancer over time, while other types can cause genital or skin warts.
HPV is so common that most people contract it at some point in their lives. HPV usually causes no symptoms so it can be difficult to determine if you have it. For most women, HPV will go away on its own; however, if it does not, there is a chance that over time it may cause cervical cancer.2
Other things can increase risk of cervical cancer:
- Having HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or another condition that makes it hard for your body to fight off health problems.
- Using birth control pills for a long time (five or more years).
- Having given birth to three or more children.
- Having several sexual partners.
The good news?
- The HPV vaccine (shot) can prevent HPV.
- Cervical cancer can often be prevented with regular screening tests (called Pap tests) and follow-up care. A Pap test can help detect abnormal (changed) cells before they turn into cancer. Most deaths from cervical cancer can be prevented if women get regular Pap tests and follow-up care.
In support of National Cervical Health Awareness Month, National Cervical Cancer Coalition 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 recommended that teens and young adults get the HPV vaccine if they did not get vaccinated as pre-teens. Women up to age 26 and men up to age 21 can still get the vaccine. Visit www.nccc-online.org to learn more.