January: National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is a time to get HPV vaccine and schedule your PAP test
January was established as National Cervical Cancer Awareness month by the United States Congress in December 2009 to raise awareness of a disease which is detectable with proper screening and now preventable, in most circumstances, by a vaccination against Human Papilloma Virus. Approximately 13,000 new diagnoses of cervical cancer are made each year from tumors which are caused by HPV. The good news is that a relatively new vaccine is available and recommended for both girls and boys beginning as young as age 11.
“If you can prevent these cancers, some of which are very difficult to detect, simply by having a couple shots of vaccination, why wouldn’t you want to? I am a big proponent of the HPV vaccine because it can have such wide reaching effect if it prevents a person from getting cancer,” said Dr. Steve Hong, OB/GYN Physician at Marshall Women’s Care, referring to the vaccine commonly known as Gardisil.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that both girls and boys ages 11 to 12 should receive two doses of the HPV vaccine with six to 12 months between the two doses. The vaccine is typically administered at the same time as other adolescent vaccines such as meningitis and pertussis.
“It is very important to note that the HPV vaccine is not administered because a person is sexually active. It is administered long before a person becomes sexually active. Because if you wait, it may be too late to prevent exposure to the virus,” said Hong. “I plan on having my own children vaccinated when it is time.”
According to the CDC, it is important to have individuals vaccinated against HPV long before they come in contact with the virus or become sexually active. It is not an indication that the child is participating in sexual activity, rather it is protection for the individual after they become sexually active, even into adulthood.
“The HPV vaccine is covered by insurance, and for good reason. We are finding that several cancers are directly tied to it. It is important to note that the risk is not just for women, as men can be carriers of the HPV virus and not even be aware of it,” said Hong, explaining that this is part of the reason for the recommendation that both girls and boys be vaccinated against HPV.
HPV has been linked to not only cervical cancer but also to penile cancers, anal cancers and various cancers of the mouth, throat and tonsils.
While the primary tool for prevention of cervical cancer is vaccination against the Human Papilloma Virus, the primary tool for detection of cervical cancer is the PAP test. PAP tests, which are administered as part of a routine gynecological exam, should begin for women at age 21. At age 30, women should receive both a PAP test and an HPV test. Your primary care or OB/GYN provider will be able to offer you advice on how often you should be screened for cervical cancer via the PAP test.
If your adolescent has not been vaccinated against HPV, which can lead to life-threatening cancers like cervical cancer, the caring providers at Marshall Family Practice and Marshall Women’s Care are taking new patients. You can schedule your appointment by calling 660-886-7800.