January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, and there’s a lot that women can do to help prevent cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer happens when normal cells in the cervix, the bottom part of the uterus, change into abnormal cells and grow out of control. Most women whose cervical cancer is found and treated early do well.
In 2021, the American Cancer Society estimates 14,480 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 4,290 women will die from it. One of the major causes of cervical cancer is Human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV causes 99 percent of cervical cancer. HPV can also cause vaginal, penile, anal, mouth and throat cancer.
HPV is a very common infection that spreads through sexual activity. About 79 million Americans currently have HPV, but many of them don’t even know that they’re infected. That’s because HPV generally doesn’t have any symptoms. In fact, in many cases, the body can fight off HPV naturally, but in serious cases, the body is at risk for serious complications.
Thankfully, the number of cervical cancer cases is declining, because of screening tests that are able to find cervical precancerous cells before they turn into cancer. The HPV vaccine also protects men and women from HPV.
At MidMichigan Health, we encourage women to begin getting regular Pap tests at age 21. Talk to your gynecologist or health care provider to determine how often you should get these screenings.
We also encourage pre-teens to get the HPV vaccine; it is most effect for boys and girls to get the vaccine between the ages of nine to 12. Teens and young adults age 13 through 26 who have not been vaccinated or who haven’t gotten all their doses should get the vaccine as soon as possible. Vaccination of young adults will not prevent as many cancers as vaccination of children and teens.
If you haven’t received a Pap test or the HPV vaccine, it’s important that you talk with your health care provider to determine a course of action that works best for you and your health. Being proactive in your health care is key!
Brendan Conboy, M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist who sees patients at MidMichigan Medical Center – Alpena. He received his medical degree from Wayne State University School of Medicine, and completed his residency at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. Those who would like more information about becoming a patient may contact his office at (989) 356-5228.