The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) and the main cause of cervical cancer. Nearly 13,800 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2020. But luckily for most, this form of cancer is very preventable and treatable, thanks to screenings and vaccinations. If found in the earliest of stages, the five year survival rate for cervical cancer is about 92%, according to the American Cancer Society. This is the reason it’s important to get yourself screened regularly.
Get your screenings regularly
One of the best ways you can protect yourself from cervical cancer is to get Pap and HPV tests done by your doctor. These tests find precancerous cells before they turn into cancer — which improves your chances of successful treatment.
According to the American Cancer Society:
- All women should begin cervical cancer screening at age 21.
- Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a Pap test every three years.
- Women between 30 and 65 should have both a Pap test and an HPV test every five years.
- Women over age 65 who’ve had regular screenings with normal results do not need to be screened for cervical cancer. Those diagnosed with cervical pre-cancer should continue to be screened.
- Women who’ve had a hysterectomy and have no history of cervical cancer or pre-cancer do not need to be screened.
- Women who’ve had the HPV vaccine should follow the screening recommendations for their age group.
- Women at high risk for cervical cancer—including those with HIV, organ transplant recipients or those exposed to DES, a synthetic estrogen—may need to be screened more often and should talk with their doctor.
Consider the HPV vaccine
About 75% of young men and women have or have previously had one or more types of genital HPV. In the vast majority of cases, the virus causes no symptoms or health problems and goes away on its own. But, for about 5% of women, a persistent infection occurs with high-risk strains of HPV, which causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer.
The HPV vaccine can protect women against four HPV types including the two most common high-risk strains. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the vaccination, which must be given in three doses, for girls and women age 11 to 26. The vaccine should be given before an HPV infection occurs, and ideally, before they become sexually active. More and more health care professionals suggest teen boys and men get the vaccine as well. And while your teen may not be sexually active, it’s important for parents to consider the vaccine for future cancer prevention.
Make this a healthy year
Take charge of your own health and take steps to reduce your risk of cervical cancer with regular screenings and vaccinations. The HPV vaccine is 100% covered as part of the Affordable Care Act. Check with your health plan to learn what tests are covered as preventive care and check with your doctor to see if this vaccination may be something you should consider.