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Protect Your Cervical Health

By: Leia Card, MD, FACOG, OB/GYN at Wentworth Health Partners OB/GYN & Infertility 

Card_Leia.jpgCervical Health Awareness Month is a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness about how women can protect themselves against HPV and cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is a highly preventable disease that starts in a woman’s cervix.  It is almost always caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is a common virus that can be transmitted during sex. About 79 million Americans currently have HPV. However, many people with HPV don’t know that they’re infected.

There are two screening tests that can help to prevent cervical cancer. The Pap smear looks for early abnormal changes in the cervix before they turn into cancer. The HPV test looks for the virus that can cause these changes.  Cervical cancer can also be prevented by the HPV vaccine, which protects against the types of HPV that most commonly cause cervical cancer. The HPV vaccination is recommended for both boys and girls at age 11 or 12 years. Vaccination is also recommended for females through age 26 years and for males through age 21 years who have not been previously vaccinated.

For women 21 years and older, routine Pap smears are recommended, even if they have already received the HPV vaccine. It may be recommended by your doctor to have a Pap smear every 1 to 5 years depending on your age and prior Pap smear results. The Pap smear, HPV testing and HPV vaccine can all be conveniently done at your doctor’s office.

How can you lower your risk of cervical cancer? Be sure to see your health care provider for recommended screenings. Also, women who smoke are about twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer. When women stop smoking, it can decrease their risk of cervical cancer as well as many other cancers. It is important to know that most women will have no symptoms with cervical cancer. However, symptoms of cervical cancer, which may not show up until the cancer is advanced, include abnormal vaginal bleeding, unusual discharge, and bleeding after menopause.

Cervical Health Awareness Month is a great time to be sure that you and your family are up to date with cervical cancer screening. Contact your doctor to schedule your Pap smear or to discuss the HPV vaccine.

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