10 things you should know about cervical cancer

No woman should die of cervical cancer. Get screened regularly starting at age 21.


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  • Wear a teal riibbon to raise awareness about cervical cancer



No woman should die of cervical cancer. It is highly preventable with regular screening tests and appropriate follow-up care. It also can be cured when found early and treated.

Cervical cancer is almost always caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Vaccines are available to protect against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical cancer.

1. HPV is commonHPV is very common in the United States and is passed from one person to another during sex. It is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives, but few women will get cervical cancer. Talk to your health care provider about getting the HPV test.

At any time there are approximately 79 million people in the U.S. with HPV.

2. Different typesSome types of HPV can cause genital warts while some other, different types are linked to cervical cell changes that, if not detected early, can increase a woman's risk for cervical cancer. HPV also causes some cancers of the penis, anus, vagina, vulva, and throat. HPV infections are usually harmless, though, and most are cleared naturally by the body in a year or two.

3. VaccinationsHPV vaccines can help prevent infection from both high-risk HPV types that can lead to cervical cancer and low risk types that cause genital warts. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends all boys and girls get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12, but vaccination is avail­ able through age 26. The vaccine produces a stronger immune response when taken during the preteen years. For this reason, up until age 14, only two doses are the vaccine are required. Young women and men can get the vaccine up to age 26, but for those 15 and older, a full three-dose series is needed.

4. TransmissionHPV is usually passed by genital-to-genital and genital-to-anal contact (even without penetration). The virus can also be transmitted by oral to genital contact, although this probably occurs less often. Studies show that male condoms can reduce HPV transmission to females, although condoms only protect the skin they cover.

5. TestingA Pap test can find cell changes to the cervix caused by HPV. HPV tests find the virus and help healthcare providers know which women are at highest risk for cervical cancer. A Pap/HPV co-test is recommended for women 30 and over. One HPV test has been approved for use as primary cervical cancer screening for women age 25 and older, followed by a Pap test for women with certain results.

6. TreatmentThere's no treatment for the virus itself, but health care provid­ers have plenty of options to treat diseases caused by HPV.

7. RelationshipsIt can take weeks, months, or even years after exposure to HPV before symptoms develop or the virus is detected. This is why it is usually impossible to determine when or from whom HPV may have been contracted. A recent diagnosis of HPV does not necessarily mean anyone has been unfaithful, even in a long-term relationship spanning years.

8. PregnancyPregnant women with HPV almost always have natural deliver­ies and healthy babies. It's very rare for a newborn to get HPV from the mother.

9. The emotional sideIt can be upsetting when HPV is first diagnosed, but remember that having HPV is normal. It doesn't mean that anyone did something wrong, just that like most others they were exposed to a common infection. There are 14 million new HPV infections in the U.S. each year alone.

10. Finding supportThe American Sexual Health Association and the National Cervical Cancer Coalition have online support communities at Inspire.com that connect patients, partners, and caregiv­ers. These are safe places where thousands of users find the information and support they need.

Source: National Cervical Cancer Coalition: nccc-online.org

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