Ladies, January is nationally recognized as Cervical Health Awareness Month, so let's have a frank discussion.
Cervical cancer is one of the 6 types of gynecological cancers. It is the easiest one to prevent and is very curable when treated early. It affects about 12,000 women in the US each year, mostly women over 30 years old. Most cervical cancers are caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted virus, that most of us will get at some point of our lives. HPV usually resolves itself and goes away without us even knowing we ever had it, however, it can sometimes linger and cause cervical cancer in women.
There are a few things that you can do to protect your cervical health.
HPV Vaccine- If you are younger than 26 years old, get the vaccine. It's a great way to prevent HPV (and the associated diseases of HPV) and is safe and effective. If you have young children, please get them vaccinated, as the ideal age is 11 to 12 years for boys and girls. I know that there is often a stigma associated with giving young children HPV vaccines or even putting young girls on birth control and that it is thought to give them "permission" to have sex. Keep in mind that these vaccines are meant to prevent health consequences down the line, if and when they do choose to be sexually active. Having frank conversations with your children will help them to make the best decisions about their sexual choices.
Regular pap smears- Any woman over the age of 21 should be getting regular pap smears. If you have a normal result, it is not necessary to get another for 3 years. If you receive an abnormal result, then follow up with you doctor on next steps. HPV tests cans be completed along with the pap smear in women over the age of 30 and are conducted every 5 years.
Safe sex- As always, practice safe sex! Condom use has been associated with lower rates of cervical cancer.
Talk about birth control- Taking birth control pills for more than five years is associated with an increased risk for cervical cancer. It may be time to have a discussion with your partner and/or gyno for other contraceptive options.
Stop Smoking- It's 2017 ladies. Put the cigarettes down. They are not benefiting your health at all and if anything, are making it worse. Smoking is associated with many cancers. It's time to let this habit go. Visit smokefree.gov for resources to help you quit.
Take care of your bodies ladies. Make sure you are getting your pap smears regularly. If you are without insurance and looking for cheap testing options look into the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program by visiting www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp.
Improving our health literacy so that we all may live healthier, more abundant lives