January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, a great time to talk about how human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines can help prevent cancer and how routine cervical cancer screening exams can help detect cervical cancer early. Now, thanks to cervical cancer screening and HPV vaccination, cervical cancer is the most preventable of all female cancers.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are many different types of HPV. Some types can cause health problems including genital warts and cancers. You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. HPV can be passed even when an infected person has no signs of symptoms. Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if you have had sex with only one person. You also can develop symptoms years after you have sex with someone who is infected.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends HPV vaccination for all 9–26-year-old male and females. For patients who get their first dose of the HPV vaccine before their 15th birthday, they will need a 2nd HPV vaccine 6-12 months after their first vaccine. For patients who get their first dose after their 15th birthday, they will need a 2nd and 3rd HPV vaccine for full protection. In this 3-dose series, the second dose should be given 1-2 months after the first dose, and the third dose should be given 6 months after the first dose.
HPV vaccination provides the most benefit when given before a person is exposed to any HPV. This is why the CDC recommends HPV vaccination at age 11-12 years. HPV vaccination is also recommended through age 26 years for everyone who did not get vaccinated when they were younger. For 27–45-year-olds the CDC recommends HPV vaccination only in high-risk populations and this should be discussed and determined by your doctor.
Routine cervical cancer screening with what is called a pap smear is recommend for all females 21-65-years-old. The pap smear involves a gynecological exam by your doctor where they take a small sample from your cervix to be tested for any abnormal cells on the cervix that might become cervical cancer and for HPV, the virus that causes these abnormal cells and cervical cancer.
If you have not had a routine gynecology exam in the past 3 years or are 9-26 years-old and have not had your HPV vaccination, please schedule an appointment with your primary care provider to make sure you are doing everything you can to prevent cervical cancer and HPV. If you do not have a primary care provider, please feel free to contact Healthy U Family Medicine to establish care with any one of our providers.