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Preventing Cervical Cancer

January 24, 2019

Nearly 13,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year.

Many women do not know that this cancer can be prevented with a vaccination and appropriate screenings. January is Cervical Health Awareness Month — the perfect time to learn a little more about cervical cancer and how you can protect against it. A little information just might save you, your daughter, your sister, or your friends from a scary diagnosis.

Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. Fortunately, highly effective and safe vaccines have been available for more than 10 years, and studies have shown the vaccine prevents the HPV types that cause 90 percent of all cervical cancer cases.

The American Cancer Society recommends routine HPV vaccinations for girls and boys beginning at age 11 or 12 — prior to becoming sexually active. However, the vaccine is still beneficial for those who are already sexually active and is recommended through the age of 26.

In addition to the vaccine, regular cervical cancer screenings are important as they detect abnormal cell changes in the cervix that occur years before cervical cancer develops. Traditionally, these screenings have been the Pap test in which cervical cells are collected and evaluated for changes or abnormalities. If abnormalities are found, additional tests or procedures may be performed. Women 21 to 65 years old are recommended to get a Pap test every one to three years, and women 30 to 65 years old can lengthen that interval to five years with an HPV test.

With vaccination and early detection, cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50 percent of all new cervical cancers are in women who have never been screened or have not been screened in the previous five years — so regular screenings are important.

The HPV vaccine and routine cervical cancer screenings are available to Health First Colorado (Colorado’s Medicaid Program) members. Talk to your provider about the steps you should take to prevent and screen for cervical cancer.

Need to find a provider? Use this tool to search for a provider who sees Health First Colorado members.