Northwest Colorado Health: Get vaccinated, screened to prevent cervical cancer
Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death among American women. This significantly improved as more women received cervical cancer screenings, which can detect changes in the cervix before cancer develops.
Despite this, cervical cancer remains a serious health threat. The American Cancer Society estimates 13,100 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed this year, and 4,250 women will die from the disease.
Types of the human papillomavirus, or HPV, cause cervical cancer. HPV is common — more than half of sexually active men and women are infected with HPV at some time. Most people with HPV never develop symptoms or health problems. However, sometimes HPV infections will persist, causing cancers in both men and women.
Immunization helps prevent HPV-related cancers. Ideally, individuals receive the vaccine during their preteen years, when it produces a stronger immune response. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends preteens age 11 or 12 receive two shots of the vaccine six to 12 months apart. Teens older than 14 years should receive three shots within six months.
Teens and young adults who have not received the vaccine but are sexually active should still get immunized to protect against types of HPV they may not yet have been exposed to. HPV immunization is recommended for women through age 26 and men through age 21.
For more information, visit cdc.gov/hpv.
A cervical cancer screening, or Pap test, is the most important weapon against cervical cancer. ACS recommends women begin Pap tests at age 21 and continue screenings every three to five years, depending on their age, any health conditions they have, and risk for cervical cancer.
HPV is rarely a threat to women in their teens and 20s; their immune systems usually clear the virus and related cell changes. Cervical cancer is most common in women during midlife. Starting at age 30, women have the option of receiving HPV tests, which can find high-risk types of the virus that lead to cervical cancer. Co-testing — Pap test and HPV test — is more likely to detect abnormal cell changes than either test alone.
Cervical cancer screening recommendations can be confusing. Be sure to talk with your health care provider about the best plan of action for you.
Women ages 21 to 64 who do not have health insurance or are underinsured may be eligible for free Pap tests and breast exams. For more information, call Northwest Colorado Health at 970-824-8233.
When it opens later this year, the Memorial Regional Health medical office building will recognize supporters with a hand-forged iron tree of life.