January is National Cervical Health Awareness Month and the Fargo Cass Public Health Clinic is reminding women of the importance to get screened for cervical cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year approximately 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer and over 4,000 women die from the disease. As many as 93% of these cervical cancers could have been prevented through cervical cancer screening and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancers and the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. Most people with HPV do not even know they have it because they never have symptoms or problems. Usually the body’s immune system will fight off the infection, and it goes away on its own; but sometimes the infection does not go away, and this can cause abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. If left untreated, these abnormal changes eventually can lead to cervical cancer.
Audrey Eckes, nurse practitioner at the FCPH Clinic says, “Women should have screenings every three years beginning at age 21.”
It is also recommended that women ages 30 to 65 should have a Pap test along with an HPV test every five years or a Pap test alone every three years. Women with certain risk factors may need to have more frequent screening or to continue screening beyond age 65.
The Pap test is a screening test that can detect the abnormal changes in the cervical cells before they become cancer. If cancer does occur, the Pap test can find it early when it is easier to treat. An HPV test can find any of the types of HPV that can cause the abnormal cell changes on the cervix. The HPV test is done at the same time as the Pap test.
Vaccines also have the potential to protect people from the HPV infections that can cause cancer. There are currently two vaccines available for people 11 to 26 years old. Both protect against HPV strains 16 and 18, the two main types of HPV that cause approximately 70 percent of all cervical cancers.
Eckes adds, “The HPV vaccine is safe and effective, it is important because it prevents cancer.”
The Fargo Cass Public Health Clinic offers Pap and HPV tests, as well as the HPV vaccine. Fees for these services are based in household size and income. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call 701.241.1383 ext. 1, or go to FargoCassPublicHealth.com.