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National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

You Can Prevent Cervical Cancer

Did you know that cervical cancer is the easiest female cancer to prevent? There are three major steps in preventing cervical cancer:

  • The Pap test (or Pap smear) - a test that looks for cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated.
  • The HPV test - looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.
  • HPV vaccination - the CDC recommends that all girls who are 11 or 12 years old get three doses (shots) of HPV vaccine to protect against cervical cancer and precancer. Girls and young women aged 13 through 26 years should get all three doses of an HPV vaccine if they have not received all doses yet. The vaccine can be given to girls beginning at age nine years.

The recommended guideline notes that women 21 to 64 years of age receive a pap test every one to three years. Talk to your physician regarding how frequently you should get screened.

Cervical Cancer Risk Factors

While almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV (human papillomavirus) there are other risk factors that may make a woman more susceptible to developing this disease such as:

  • Smoking - Women who smoke are about twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer.
  • Weakened immune system - women with HIV or AIDS are at a higher risk for HPV infections which puts them at more risk for cervical cancer.
  • Diet - diets low in fruits and vegetables increase the risk as well as being overweight.
  • Chlamydia Infection - studies have shown that past or current cases of this condition have an effect on contracting this cancer.
  • Women who take birth control pills for more than five years have an increased risk.
  • Multiple full term pregnancies - this includes women who have three or more full term pregnancies in their lifetime.
  • Family history of cervical cancer - a woman's chance of developing cervical cancer is two to three times higher if a close family member such as the mother or sister had the disease.

HAP will be offering several drawings in the upcoming year to members who receive a pap test in 2011. Look for information that will be mailed out to you by March 31, 2011.

So if you are due for a pap test, call your PCP or OB/GYN and schedule one today. It's a test that could save your life.

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