Cervical Health Awareness and HPV
January is a month of renewal and fresh starts. It is also the month that the United States Congress has 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). 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. For most women, pre-cancerous cells will go away without any treatment and cervical cancer can, in most cases, be prevented with regular screening tests. The American Cancer Society suggests that all women with a cervix have a primary HPV test every 5 years starting at age 25 through age 65. If a primary HPV test is not available, then acceptable options include a co-test every 5 years or a Pap test alone every 3 years.
It may be surprising to some, but men are also vulnerable to cancers caused by HPV. Each year in the U.S. almost 35,000 men and women are diagnosed with HPV-related cancers. These include not only cervical but vaginal, vulvar, throat, anal and penile cancer. HPV infection has no treatment, but vaccination can prevent more than 90% of HPV cancers when given to girls and boys between the ages of 9 and 12. HPV vaccines have led to a decline in not only cervical cancer but related cancers as well. More than 60% of U.S. parents have chosen to protect their children from cancer with the HPV vaccine. Since the vaccination can still be effective in older girls and boys, and even women and men, the American Cancer Society recommends that children and young adults ages 13 through 26 receive the vaccine as soon as possible.
Globally, cervical cancer is still the world’s fourth most common type of cancer in women. Cervical Health Awareness Month provides an opportunity to raise awareness about cervical cancer and about how women and men can protect themselves from HPV and other cancers they cause.
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