Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease, and some strains increase the risk of cervical cancer in women (and certain other types of cancer in both men and women). However, preventative measures, including vaccinations and screenings, are widely available. This is the type of information that the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) and many other health organizations hope to spread this month as part of Cervical Health Awareness Month.
The NCCC and the US Department of Human Health and Services are sharing a wide selection of informational resources on their websites, including downloadable fact sheets, podcasts, and videos on HPV, cervical cancer, and prevention. Both sites also offer suggestions for spreading awareness about cervical health. The NCCC has a press release and public service announcement that can be shared with state and local media, and they are encouraging site visitors to start conversations on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #CervicalHealthMonth. The HealthFinder.gov website also has a list of sample tweets you can share to spread information on cervical health.
Preventing HPV and Cervical Cancer by Raising Awareness
There are more than 40 types of HPV, and about 79 million Americans (both men and women) have HPV at any given time. 9 out of 10 types of the virus are harmless and will pass through the body in a year or two, but some strains cause genital warts, and still others increase the risk of developing cancer of the cervix, vagina, anus, penis, mouth, or throat.
Doctors now recommend that both girls and boys receive HPV vaccinations starting at age 11 or 12. There are two recommended vaccinations for boys and three for girls. These vaccinations are typically spread out over a six-month period and protect against the types of HPV that cause genital warts and cancer. Although it is best for boys and girls to be vaccinated before they become sexually active, young adults can still receive the vaccinations through age 21 (for men) and 26 (for women).
Women over the age of 26 may be outside the recommended window for receiving the HPV vaccinations, but they can still reduce their risk of cervical cancer through regular HPV and Pap testing. Pap tests are an easy way for doctors to screen for cancers and pre-cancers in the cervix, and both Pap tests and HPV tests are covered under the Affordable Care Act. Doctors recommend that women between the ages of 21 and 29 get a Pap test every three years, and that women ages 30 and over get a combination HPV/Pap test every 5 years. It’s also a good idea for adult women to schedule annual wellness checkups with their doctor, regardless of whether or not they received the HPV vaccinations when they were younger.
Although January may be Cervical Health Awareness Month, it’s important to spread awareness about good reproductive health practices all year—and to put those practices into action yourself. Schedule an annual wellness checkup if you haven’t already, and use the resources provided by the NCCC to share valuable information about HPV and cervical health with your loved ones.
Cervical Health Awareness Month Poster