January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. According to the Center for Disease Control, around 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year and 4,000 women die from those diagnosis.
To help eliminate those statistics, Washington DC VA Medical Center health care providers encourage women Veterans to learn about screening recommendations and important vaccines that can protect against the viruses that cause cervical cancer.
The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a common virus, in fact it is believed that close to 42 million people are currently infected with HPV in the United States. This common virus can lead to several forms of cancer later in life, including cervical cancer.
Thankfully, there is a highly effective HPV vaccine that has shown to protect against 90% of the HPV viruses that cause cervical cancer. This vaccine is recommended for girls, beginning at age 9, but can be received until the age of 26. Women who are older than 26 and interested in the HPV vaccine should talk to their primary care provider about any possible side effects.
The HPV vaccine protects against cervical cancer by preventing new HPV infections, but it cannot treat existing ones. That is why it is vital to get screened for cervical cancer, regularly, starting at 21 years old.
Health care providers use the HPV test and the Pap test to screen for early signs of cervical cancer. The HPV test looks for the viruses that can cause cell changes in the cervix. The Pap test, also know as a Pap smear, looks for precancers or cells in the cervix that might become cervical cancer without treatment.
Women should start screening for cervical cancer at age 21, and then follow their primary care providers recommendations for screening intervals. As you age, your need for screening will change with your body. Your primary care provider can advise you on which screening method is best for you, and how often you should get screened.
Cervical cancer can be deadly, but through proper screening and vaccinations, it can also be eradicated from the population. Join Washington DC VA Medical Center health care professionals on their mission to spread awareness this month and help prevent and eliminate cervical cancer once and for all.