Screenings and HPV vaccine are best ways to prevent cervical cancer

Women who are thinking about their goals for the new year should start the year off right by getting screened for cervical cancer, especially if it’s been awhile since your last screening, or you’ve never had it done. Getting screened regularly for cervical cancer is important for all women because that is the most effective way to find the disease early so it can be treated. It is highly treatable when it is found early enough, but in order to find it, women have to get screened.

Who does cervical cancer affect?

Cervical cancer most often affects women over the age of 30. Almost 13,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year in the United States and more than 4,000 women will die from the disease. In Idaho in 2015, an estimated 45 women were diagnosed and 17 women died from cervical cancer.

Who is most at risk?

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV is a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex. Those who become sexually active at an early age or who have several sexual partners are at a greater risk, but anyone who has ever had sex is at risk for HPV. Not getting screened or being HIV positive increases a woman’s risk for cervical cancer, and smoking doubles it. 

What can be done to help prevent cervical cancer?

Women can get regular screenings and get the HPV vaccine. Public health officials recommend the vaccine for 11 to 12-year-old boys and girls, before they become sexually active. The vaccine is also recommended for people ages 13 to 26 who did not get vaccinated when they were younger.

How often should women get tested?

Women should talk with their doctors about how often they should get screened. But we need to step it up: In 2014, Idaho ranked last among states and the District of Columbia in the percentage of women ages 21-65 who had had a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer within the previous three years. The good news is that it is generally covered under health insurance. Check your plan to be sure. Also, Idaho’s Women’s Health Check program can help low-income, uninsured women who qualify receive free screenings for breast and cervical cancers. You’ll find more information at www.womenshealthcheck.dhw.idaho.gov or by calling the Idaho Careline at 2-1-1.

Is there anything else women can do to prevent cervical cancer?

In addition to regular screenings, women can limit the number of sexual partners they have and be sure to use condoms. Quitting smoking can also help reduce the risk of cervical as well as several other types of cancer.

(Note: A Closer Look At Your Health airs at 6:50 a.m. most Tuesdays on KBOI News Radio 670. This is an edited transcript of the segment from Jan. 3. Join us next week, when we’ll be discussing the reasons for testing your home for radon.) 

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