January is National Cervical Health Awareness Month

Although medical advances in recent years have reduced cervical cancer rates, every year in the U.S. more than 12,000 women still face that diagnosis, and more than 4,000 Americans die of the disease each year. January, National Cervical Health Awareness month, is a good time to educate yourself about this cancer and its cause, human papillomavirus (HPV). The ribbon color is teal.

Here is a shortened version of the “10 Things to Know about HPV and Cervical Cancer” guide issued by the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC):

  1. HPV is common. If you’re sexually active, you’ll probably develop HPV at some point, and it may clear up on its own. About 79 million people in the U.S. have it at any given time.
  2. Different types of HPV. Although HPV infections tend to be harmless and cured naturally by the body, some types of HPV can cause genital warts, cervical cell changes and cancers not only in the cervix but in other body organs, including men’s organs.
  3. Vaccination. HPV vaccines have been shown to be significantly effective at preventing infection from the various types of HPV. Girls and boys are advised to get two doses of the vaccine at the optimal age of 11 or 12; after age 15 teens need three doses to be as effective. Vaccines are available to people through age 26.
  4. Transmission. HPV is transmitted through sexual contact. Condoms can help, but they protect only the skin they cover.
  5. Testing. The Pap/HPV co-test is recommended for women 30 and older. There’s also an HPV test for women age 25 and older that is followed by a Pap test when necessary.
  6. Treatment. Although there’s no treatment for HPV, there is treatment available for the diseases it can cause.
  7. Relationships. It can takes from weeks to years after exposure for someone to develop symptoms. The NCCC urges people even in long-term relationships not to assume a partner has been unfaithful.
  8. Pregnancy. Newborns very rarely get HPV from the mother during a natural delivery.
  9. Emotional response to diagnosis. Although the HPV diagnosis can upset people, the NCCC assures us all that it’s a common infection—14 million new HPV infections in the U.S. each year—that anyone can be exposed to.
  10. Support. Go to inspire.com for a community of online support.

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