There’s good news on the healthcare front—over the past 40 years rates of cervical cancer have dropped dramatically due to widespread access to regular cervical screenings (pap tests). The other good news comes in the form of a vaccine– which protects against Human Papillomavirus, (or HPV), which is the leading cause of cervical cancer. Up to 93% of cervical cancers could be prevented by screening and getting the HPV vaccination.
While the vaccine has been available since 2006, there has been some controversy in the media as to whether you can or should vaccinate yourself and your children against HPV. Additionally, there has been very little awareness about the need for boys to receive the vaccination.
January was named Cervical Health Awareness Month to encourage women across the country to get screened for cervical cancer and to vaccinate girls and boys staring at age 11. While the screening and vaccine make it relatively easy to detect and treat cervical cancer, without them it can still be a serious and even fatal illness.
What is HPV?
Human Papillomavirus is part of a group of viruses that cause warts on the hands and feet. Some HPV subtypes cause genital warts in men and women. Certain types of HPV can cause changes in the cells of the cervix. Approximately 80% of American women will have contracted at least one subtype of HPV by age 50. The majority of people who have HPV don’t know because it often has no signs or symptoms, so you can pass it on without knowing. Specific tests exist for women, but not men which makes it important for boys to be vaccinated as well as girls.
Why vaccinate so young?
The vaccine is recommended for the youngest age group the vaccine has shown to be effective for. There is a higher immune response in preteens than in older teens and adults, which is why preteen girls AND boys should get the vaccination series when they are 11 or 12 and finish by age 13. If you haven’t started or finished the shots past then, it’s not too late, go ahead and get the shots.
Rest assured research shows that being vaccinated early doesn’t lower the age of sexual activity in teens.
Why vaccinate boys?
Boys need the vaccination to prevent HPV infections that can cause cancers of the anus, penis, and the mouth/throat. It can also prevent against genital warts.
What can you do?
If you are a woman age 21 to 65, you should get a Pap test every three years. Women age 30-65 can be screened with a combination of a Pap test and HPV test every 5 years.
In addition to HPV, there are other factors that could increase your risk of getting cervical cancer:
- Those who use tobacco are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer.
- Women with immediate family members who have or had cervical cancer are at a higher risk.
- Diets low in fruits and vegetables can put a woman at an increased risk for cervical cancer.
(Data from http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/cervical-cancer/index.html)
Gallatin City County Health Department can provide free screening services to women who meet the eligibility standards. For more information, visit: https://www.healthygallatin.org/diseases-conditions/cancer-screening/.
Gallatin City-County Health Department can also vaccinate adolescents and young adults against HPV. The combination of routine screening and HPV vaccination is the best preventative method for cervical cancer. For more information on Healthy Gallatin immunizations, visit: https://www.healthygallatin.org/immunizations/ or call 406-582-3100 for immunizations clinic times or to make an appointment.