January was Cervical Health Awareness Month.
By Kim Sorensen
To start the year off right by taking charge of their health, women should use this opportunity to schedule important preventive screenings such as Pap tests, which detect irregularities that can lead to cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is caused by certain types of HPV, or human papillomavirus, a very common sexually transmitted infection. In most cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally — but high-risk HPV may lead to cervical cancer in some women.
One of the best ways to prevent the spread of HPV is by getting the HPV vaccine. Unfortunately, as a doctor, I know there are still a lot of myths out there about the vaccine. It’s good to ask questions about any medication, but it’s also important to remember that the HPV vaccine is safe and effective.
The FDA has approved the vaccine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended it for girls and boys aged 11-12.The American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as Planned Parenthood, support ensuring that all young people get the vaccine.
Medical guidance recommends that both girls and boys get the vaccination when they are 11 to 12 years old because the vaccine works best when people receive it years before they start having sex. But even those who have had sex can benefit from the vaccine; it is available to anyone aged 9-26.
For women over the age of 26, the best way to prevent cervical cancer is to get routine Pap tests. And while not routinely given, some people may be candidates to receive the vaccine after age 26 and should talk to their health care provider for more information. Contrary to what you might have heard, research shows that young people who get the HPV vaccine are no more likely to have sex than those who don’t get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine appointment can also give parents a natural opportunity to talk with their kids about sex and sexual health. Parents can really make a difference when they talk with their kids about sex. Teens who report having positive conversations with their parents about sex are more likely to delay sex, have fewer partners, and use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do have sex. You can find some tips for starting these conversations here.
Remember, you can be exposed to HPV by having genital skin-to-skin contact just once with someone who has the virus, so it’s important to talk with your partner about the importance of being protected and safe. And while there is no cure for HPV, there is treatment for the abnormal cell changes in the cervix that are caused by HPV, available at some Planned Parenthood health centers, including. Treatment is also available for cervical cancer, which, when caught early, has a 93 percent five-year survival rate. Planned Parenthood health centers, can help those who do need additional care connect with trusted, quality resources.
Kim Sorensen, is an RN and Associate Medical Director of Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando.