January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Routine pap smears and completing the HPV vaccine series are actions you can take to screen for and prevent cervical cancer.
According to the CDC, cervical cancer was previously the leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States. With the introduction of routine pap smears and the HPV vaccine, the number of deaths from cervical cancer has decreased dramatically. The American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP) recommends women have their first pap smear at age 21. Pap smears are screening tests that involve a pelvic exam and are typically completed at your annual well woman visit.
Depending on the results of your pap smear, you may be recommended to have additional testing if the result is abnormal or to repeat your pap smear in 3 years if the testing is normal. It is important to note that you should still schedule an annual well woman visit even when a pap smear is not due. That visit is important as it covers general health and wellness counseling, as well as, breast and other physical exam components.
Aside from staying up to date on your screening pap smears, the HPV vaccine helps to protect you against certain high-risk strains known to cause cervical, oropharyngeal, anal, vaginal and vulvar cancers. The HPV vaccine (Gardasil) was first introduced in 2006 and was initially recommended only for young women. The original vaccine prevented infection of four strains of HPV. In 2014, the HPV vaccine (Gardasil 9) changed and encompassed prevention of nine strains of HPV. The vaccine is now also recommended and approved for both males and females ages 9-26. In certain circumstances, the vaccine may be recommended for adults up to the age of 47. The HPV vaccine is unique as it is the only vaccine that prevents cancer!
Here at Capital Women’s Care, we want to help you to stay up to date on your cervical health screenings and to answer any questions you may have!