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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 second leading type of cancer for women worldwide, but 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. 79 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. Stephanie Delvo, 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. If you are over the age of 30, you may also be tested for the HPV virus.”
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. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all females between the ages of 11 and 26 get an HPV vaccine. Males are at risk for HPV infection, too, so boys and young men are also recommended to be vaccinated. The vaccine has been so successful that researchers comparing HPV infection rates before and after the first HPV vaccine became available found a 56% drop in infection rates for the HPV types covered by the vaccine.
“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. Delvo. Dr. Delvo went on to say that, “In the United States, cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer related death for women. However, both the number of 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.”
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.

Get Screened: January Is Cervical Health Awareness Month. (2015). Retrieved December 31, 2015, from
National Cervical Cancer Coalition. (2015). Retrieved December 31, 2015, from 


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