It’s Cervical Health Awareness Month
The Cervical Health Awareness campaign this month highlights ways that women can protect themselves from HPV (human papillomavirus) and from HPV or human papillomavirus is extremely common and can be spread through sexual contact. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. It is also considered a major cause of cervical cancer.
Current statistics suggest that 79 million Americans have HPV.
HPV can be symptomless, which means you may not know that you have it. Some other HPV facts:
• HPV is a completely different virus from HIV and herpes
• You can get HPV from vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
• HPV can be transmitted when an infected individual has no symptoms
• You can develop symptoms and become aware of the infection years after the initial contact.
• HPV can resolve on its own.
• If HPV does not resolve, it can cause problems like genital warts and it can also cause cancer, years after the initial exposure.
How can you avoid HPV?
There is now an HPV vaccine that protects against the most common strains of HPV. The vaccine is administered in three doses over a six month period. The best time to get vaccinated is as a young teen (11-12) before there is any sexual activity. Women in their late teens or early 20s may still be able to benefit from the vaccine. You can discuss this option with your health care professional.
If you are sexually active, then it’s important to use a barrier like a latex condom whenever you have sex. This lowers your chances of getting HPV; however, the condom may not cover all local areas that can harbor the virus.
How can I reduce my risk of developing cervical cancer?
Following the above recommendations can help to lower your risk of getting HPV and reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer. Screening for cervical cancer typically begins for a woman in her early 30’s, however, you can begin to have regular Pap examinations at an earlier age, especially if you believe you are at higher risk. Of course if you develop genital warts, you should seek advice and treatment from a gynecologist who will also put you on a screening schedule.
What is a Pap test?
During a gynecological examination your doctor can take a specimen of cellular material from the neck of the uterus with a swab and spread it on a slide. The slide is sent to a laboratory to screen for abnormalities and to rule out cervical cancer or any changes that suggest early cervical cancer risk. Detecting cervical cancer early, before any frank symptoms, means a greater chance of full recovery and cure.
If abnormal cells or tissue is detected your doctor may decide to do a colposcopy to more closely examine the area, using a special magnifying glass. Or you may need to undergo a biopsy of the tissue for laboratory examination and a definite diagnosis. These tests will help your doctor to map out a definitive and individualized treatment plan.
Use January’s Cervical Health Awareness Month campaign to inspire you to be more proactive and to take care of your sexual health.
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