Almost all cervical cancers are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), more than half of sexually active men and women are infected with HPV at some time. Six million new infections occur yearly in the United States, and about 20 million people - men and women - are thought to have an active HPV infection at any given time.
However, most people have no symptoms of HPV infection, which means they have no idea they have HPV. In most cases, HPV is harmless and the body clears the infection naturally, but some types of HPV can develop into cervical cancer if undetected.
Most women with an HPV infection will not develop cervical cancer, but it’s very important to have regular screening tests, including Pap and HPV tests, as recommended.
Cervical cancer is preventable if precancerous cell changes are detected and treated early, before cervical cancer develops. Cervical cancer is a slow-growing condition that usually takes years to progress. This is why getting screened on a regular basis is important; screening can usually catch any potential problems before they ever turn into cancer.
To catch cancer at an early stage, vaccines have the potential to protect women from the disease by targeting cancer-causing types of the human papilloma vi¬rus (HPV). HPV vaccines, given in a series of three shots, can help prevent the infection that can lead to cervical cancer. HPV vaccines are recommended for girls ages 11-12. Catch up vaccination is recommended for girls and young women ages 13-26 who have not been previously vaccinated. Males are also at risk, so boys and young men ages 9-26 can also be vaccinated against HPV.
The HPV vaccine is covered by most private health insurance plans. In addition, the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program provides the HPV vaccine free of charge for eligible girls 9 to 18 years of age. Children and adolescents up to and including 18 years of age who are either uninsured, Medi-Cal eligible, Native American, or Alaska Native are eligible for the VFC program.
Although HPV vaccines will not entirely eliminate the virus or cervical cancer, the vaccines prevent the types of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. The key to prevention of cervical cancer is regular gynecologic examinations and pap tests, limiting the number of sex partners, using a condom during sex, and not smoking. It’s essential that you follow up with your doctor, if your Pap test results are not normal.
Redwoods Rural Health Center encourages you to contact your health care provider to schedule a Pap test or HVP vaccination. It’s important to remember that cervical cancer is a preventable disease - as long as it’s caught early enough. To schedule an appointment at RRHC, call (707) 923-2783, or visit 101 West Coast Rd. in Redway.