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How to Avoid Cervical Cancer

Posted on Jan 29, 2018

Rachel Dawkins, M.D.

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Rachel Dawkins, M.D., from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital explains how screening for cervical cancer has reduced the number of deaths from this virus.

What causes cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is almost always caused by a very common virus called human papilloma virus (HPV). About 79 million Americans have HPV. In fact most people in their 20s and some in their late teens have been exposed to the virus. Most HPV infections resolve on their own but some strains of the virus are known to cause various cancers such as cervical, anal, and mouth and throat, and other health problems.

Can women be screened for cervical cancer and HPV?

Women should have wellness visits yearly with their physician. Screening for HPV and cervical cancer starts at age 21. The type of testing and the interval recommended depends on age. Screening for cervical cancer is very effective and has reduced the number of deaths from cervical cancer.

Can HPV be prevented?

If I told you that we have a vaccine that prevents cancer, you’d want to get it, right? Well we have one! (Actually there are two—the other protects against Hepatitis B, which causes liver cancer.) The HPV vaccine is given to children starting at 9-11 years old and can protect against the most cancerous strains of the HPV vaccine. In order to be the most effective, the vaccine needs to be given before a teenager (boy or girl) is exposed to the HPV virus.

When is the HPV vaccine given?

For children under 15, the vaccine is given as two shots, six months apart. For children 15 and older, the vaccine is a three-shot series. The HPV vaccine can be given up until 26 years old, so if you haven’t received the vaccine and are in your early 20s, head to your doctor or your local health department and ask for the HPV vaccine.

Vaccinate early and get screened regularly to prevent cervical cancer.

This information was shared on WTVT-TV’s Doc on Call segment, which is aimed at helping parents learn more about children’s health issues. The segment airs each Monday morning on Good Day Tampa Bay.

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