By Dr. Steven Goldberg
Cervical Health Awareness Month in January is an opportunity to raise awareness about how women can protect themselves from HPV (human papillomavirus) and cervical cancer.
About 20 million Americans currently have HPV, the most common sexually transmitted disease. In addition, 14 million people become infected each year. HPV is associated with several types of cancers, especially cervical cancer.
So, what’s the good news? HPV can be prevented with the HPV vaccine and cervical cancer can often be detected early with regular screenings, called Pap tests.
Cervical cancer screenings can help detect abnormal cells early, before they turn into cancer. Most deaths from cervical cancer could be prevented by regular Pap tests and follow-up care. A Pap test also can find cancer early, when it is easier to cure. Women with cervical cancer often experience no symptoms or pain, so regular testing is important.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists currently recommends that cervical cancer screenings, or Pap tests, begin at age 21 and between the ages of 21 and 29, may be performed every three years.
At age 30, screening should begin to include HPV testing and be done every five years. After the age of 65, with a history of negative screening over a 20 year period, screening may be stopped.
A gynecological exam includes much more than a Pap test, so an annual wellness visit with a gynecologist is still recommended.
HPV vaccines are given as a series of three shots over six months to both females and males to protect against HPV. Both Cervarix and Gardasil protect against cervical cancers in women. Gardasil also protects against genital warts and cancers of the anus, vagina and vulva. Both vaccines are available for females. Only Gardasil is available for males.
HPV vaccines offer the best protection to girls and boys who receive all three vaccine doses and have time to develop an immune response before being sexually active with another person. The HPV vaccination is recommended for preteen girls and boys beginning at age 11 or 12 years.
HPV vaccines are also recommended for teen boys and girls who did not get the vaccine when they were younger, teen girls and young women through age 26, as well as teen boys and young men through age 21.
The vaccine is recommended for gay and bisexual men or any man who has sex with a man. It is also recommended for men and women with compromised immune systems, including people living with HIV/AIDS through age 26, if they did not get fully vaccinated when they were younger.
Our knowledge of the cause, detection, treatment and prevention of cervical cancer has increased exponentially since I started my medical practice. We now know that we can prevent many cervical cancers but education, prevention and early detection are still key to good sexual health for both men and women.
Dr. Goldberg is part of Bay Obstetrics and Gynecology practice, affiliated with Raritan Bay Medical Center. The Bay physicians are all board certified and provide comprehensive healthcare for women of all ages. Office locations include 740 Route 1 North, Iselin, NJ and 2045 Highway 35 South, South Amboy, NJ. To schedule an appointment, call 732-316-4951. Dr. Goldberg’s special interests include hysteroscopic surgery to potentially help women avoid hysterectomy and laparoscopic surgery including laparoscopic hysterectomy.
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