January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Learn about HPV and cervical cancer prevention.
More than 11,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Cervical cancer forms in tissues of the cervix (the organ connecting the uterus and vagina). It is usually a slow-growing cancer that may not have symptoms but can be found with regular Pap tests (a procedure in which cells are scraped from the cervix and looked at under a microscope). Cervical cancer is almost always caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. .
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, and it can be spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. HPV is so common that you can still become infected, even if you only have sex with one person.
A person with HPV may not always exhibit symptoms, as the virus itself does not cause any immediate health problems. HPV may go away on its own, however, if it does not go away, it can cause other health problems, such as genital warts and cancer.
How to avoid HPV and related health problems:
Get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective at preventing the virus, which in turn helps prevent other health problems caused by HPV, such as cancers and genital warts. The CDC recommends that all boys and girls ages 11 or 12 get vaccinated.
Get screened for cervical cancer. Early detection leads to early treatment. Women ages 21 to 65 can and should get screened for cervical cancer.
Use condoms (correctly) if you are having sex. If you have sex with more than one person, the likelihood of becoming infected with HPV increases. If you and your partner are monogamous, meaning you and your partner are only having sex with each other, you should use precaution if you are not vaccinated.