Cervical Health Awareness Month
January is a month of renewal and fresh starts, the beginning of a new year. It is also the month that the United States Congress designated as Cervical Health Awareness Month. By American Cancer Society estimates, about 13,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer occur each year. However, if detected early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers.
The most important risk factor for cervical cancer is infection by the human papillomavirus (HPV) which is most commonly spread through sexual activity. HPV is a group of more than 150 related viruses, but about two-thirds of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV types 16 and 18. Infection with HPV is common. About 79 million Americans currently have HPV and many don’t know they are infected. For most women, pre-cancerous cells will go away without any treatment. Only a small percentage of women with pre-cancerous changes of the cervix will develop cancer.
The good news is that cervical cancer can, in most cases, be prevented with regular screening tests. The American Cancer Society suggests that all women should get regular Pap tests every three years starting at age 21. HPV vaccines have also led to a decline in cervical cancer diagnoses. In Australia, a government vaccination program has led to a 77 percent reduction in the types of HPV most responsible for cervical cancer, according to the Cancer Council Australia. Australia now has one of the lowest cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates in the world.
The American Cancer Society recommends that both boys and girls get the HPV vaccine by age 11 or 12 for optimal immune response. The vaccination series can also be effective in older boys and girls, and even men and women. Since HPV related cancers can occur in men, most commonly in the throat, tongue and tonsils, it is beneficial for men as well as women to be vaccinated.
Globally, cervical cancer is still the world’s fourth most common type of cancer in women. Cervical Health Awareness Month provides a chance to raise awareness about how women and men can protect themselves from HPV and cervical cancer.
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