By Tracey Arwood, CNM
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and a time to focus on what you can do to prevent cervical cancer. Each year, more than 11,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is a very common infection that spreads through sexual activity, and it causes almost all cases of cervical cancer. About 79 million Americans currently have HPV, but many people with HPV do not know they are infected.
The good news is that cervical cancer can be prevented.
The HPV vaccine is recommended by the CDC for girls and young women age 11 to 26 for the prevention of cervical cancer. The vaccine is most effective if given before the onset of sexual activity, and it is a part of the routine vaccination schedule for both boys and girls around the ages of 11 or 12.
Cervical cancer can also be prevented through regular screening tests and follow up care. Cervical cancer screenings, such as pap smears, can help detect abnormal cells early, before they turn into cancer. If abnormal cells are detected, simple treatment options are available to remove the abnormal cells.
Routine pap smears are recommended every 3 years after the age of 21, and more often if the tests come back with abnormal results.
It is important to continue getting routine pap smears until age 64, even if previous pap smears have all been normal. HPV may stay dormant for many years before causing cellular changes that turn into cervical cancer.
Most women can receive routine cervical cancer screenings at no charge, either as a prevention visit through their insurance or through state funded programs. Show-Me Healthy Women is a Missouri wide program offered through the health department that covers cervical and breast cancer screenings for women who have no insurance and meet certain income guidelines.
Cervical cancer risk is also reduced by using latex condoms consistently to prevent HPV transmission. Smoking also increases the risk of HPV developing into cervical cancer.
Tracey Arwood, CNM provides complete women’s healthcare. Tracey sees teenagers after their first period, and she has HPV vaccines available.
To make an appointment with Arwood, contact the TCMH Medical Complex in Houston at (417)967-5637 or the TCMH Mountain Grove Clinic at (417)926-1770.