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January is recognized as Cervical Health Awareness Month by the National Cervical Cancer Coalition. During this month, issues related to cervical cancer, human papillomavirous (HPV), and the importance of early detection are highlighted.

Cervical cancer is the fourth leading type of cancer for women worldwide, but because it develops over time, it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer. In most cases it can be prevented through early detection years before it develops. Women are encouraged to be screened for cervical cancer and to receive the HPV vaccine if eligible.

HPV is a common virus that more than half of sexually active individuals have at some point in their lives. Nearly 80 million U.S. people have the HPV virus at any given time, with 14 million new HPV infections each year in the U.S. alone. Pap tests can find cell changes caused by HPV, as HPV is found in around 99% of cervical cancers.
Dr. Heather Sandness Nelson a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology at Mid Dakota Clinic, explains the importance of routine Pap tests, “Unfortunately, HPV usually causes no symptoms, so most people are not aware that they have the virus. This virus causes cell changes on the cervix that may become cervical cancer over time. Pap smears detect these abnormal cervical cells so they can be monitored or treated appropriately, before they turn into cancer.”
HPV vaccines are an additional preventative measure. Vaccines help to prevent infection from high risk HPV types that can lead to cervical cancer and low risk types that do not cause cancer. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the HPV vaccine is recommended for young women starting at age 11 through age 26 and young men starting at age 11 through age 21.
“The best defense against cervical cancer is screening and early detection of abnormal or precancerous cells. The most important thing you can do is get regular Pap smears starting at age 21,” said Dr. Sandness Nelson. “New cervical cancer cases and deaths from cervical cancer has significantly decreased over the last few decades, largely in part to routine pap tests. We expect to see this decline continue with further research, development, and use of the HPV vaccine for prevention,” she said.
With the detection tools available, cervical cancer is becoming easier to treat and to prevent. Women can take charge of their health by being vaccinated and getting tested.

National Cervical Cancer Coalition. (2019). Retrieved January 2, 2019, from 
HPV Vaccines: Vaccinating Your Preteen or Teen. (2019). Retrieved January 2, 2019, from 


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