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It’s time to talk about the importance of cervical health

26 January, 2024
Produced by:
It’s time to talk about the importance of cervical health

Clinically reviewed by Lauren McMahon, MD, Obstetrics and Gynecology

Cervical cancer is the fourth leading cause of death in women around the world, and in the United States, it was once the most common cause of death.[1],[2]

Cancer occurs when the body’s cells grow out of control. It’s name comes from the part of the body where it begins. In this case, it’s the cervix.[3] This is where the upper part of the uterus and the vagina are connected.[4]

Fortunately, with the increased use of the Pap test, the rate of death in women has greatly decreased. The earlier your doctor can detect cancer, the easier it will be to treat.[5]

What are the risk factors?

Most if not all cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV.[6] HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that can cause many forms of cancer or genital/skin warts. [5],[7] HPV can show no symptoms and most people won’t know they have it.[5] It’s important to treat HPV early because while for some, it may go away, for others, it can lead to changes in your cervix and eventually cervical cancer.[5] Other risk factors for cervical cancer include HIV, sexual history, weakened immune system, long-term use of birth control pills, multiple pregnancies and tobacco smoking.[5],[8]

How to prevent cervical cancer

The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to get regular screenings and you can even lower your risks by getting regular screenings starting at 21.[8], [9] HPV vaccination is your best defense against cervical cancer and other cancers caused by HPV. However, it doesn’t prevent against other sexually transmitted diseases and infections, existing HPV infection or HPV-related diseases.[8], [10]

There are three screening options available for adults 30-65: HPV test only, HPV test with Pap test or a Pap test only. Depending on the results, your doctor may tell you to wait a specified time period before receiving your next screening (sometimes between three to five years).[8],[10]

The next thing you can you do to protect yourself is get vaccinated for HPV. At the earliest, vaccination can begin at nine years old.[9] Age plays a part in how many doses and how far apart each vaccine is given. Guidelines recommend the first dose be given between 11–12 years old and a second dose 6-12 months later.[9],[10] If you started the vaccine series before your 15th birthday, you will only need two doses. For those starting on/after their 15th birthday, will need three doses over the course of six months.[11]

Why get vaccinated?

85% percent of people will get HPV at some point in their lifetime if they are unvaccinated.[10] Around 13 million Americans (teens and adults) are infected each year.[10]

Did you know:

“HPV causes an estimated 36,500 cases of cancer every year in the United States – An average baseball game attendance.” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.[10]

HPV vaccination has been linked to a 40% drop in cervical cancer-causing HPV.[11]

While screening can detect cancer early, it’s much better to prevent it. The only way to do so is through HPV vaccination. Over 135 million doses are given out throughout the U.S.[11] If you are pregnant, ever had a life-threatening allergy to any ingredient of the HPV vaccine or have an allergy to yeast, talk with your doctor about whether the HPV vaccine is right for you.

Disclaimer:

The information featured in this site is general in nature. The site provides health information designed to complement your personal health management. It does not provide medical advice or health services and is not meant to replace professional advice or imply coverage of specific clinical services or products. The inclusion of links to other web sites does not imply any endorsement of the material on such websites.

[1] Cervical cancer. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cervical-cancer. Created November 17, 2023. Accessed December 6, 2023.

[2] January is cervical cancer awareness month. https://www.aacr.org/patients-caregivers/awareness-months/cervical-cancer-awareness-month/. Accessed December 6, 2023.

[3] Information about cervical cancer. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/index.htm. Last reviewed August 21, 2023. Accessed December 6, 2023.

[4] Basic information about cervical cancer. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/index.htm. Last reviewed August 21, 2023

[5] What Are the Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer? https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/risk_factors.htm.  Last reviewed August 21, 2023. Accessed December 6, 2023.

[6] Genital HPV Infection – Basic Fact Sheet. https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm. Last reviewed April 12, 2022. Accessed December 6, 2023.

[7] Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/cervical-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html. Last revised January 2020. Accessed December 6, 2023.

[8] Can cervical cancer be found early? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/cervical-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/detection.html. Last revised July 30, 2023. Accessed December 6, 2023.

[9] HPV Vaccine. https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/vaccine-for-hpv.html. Last reviewed August 16, 2023. Accessed December 16, 2023.

[10] Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination: What everyone should know. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/hpv/public/index.html. Last reviewed November 16, 2021. Accessed December 6, 2023.

[11] Reasons to get HPV vaccine. https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/vaccine/six-reasons.html. Last reviewed November 10, 2021. Accessed December 6, 2023.

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