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This year, it is estimated that about 13,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and about 4,200 people will end up dying of this disease. Latinas and African-American women have higher rates of cervical cancer than other groups and are also more likely to die of the disease. For those who are diagnosed at an early stage, the survival rates exceed 90 percent, so early detection is the most important factor in beating this cancer.

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, and Planned Parenthood health centers are here to provide professional, nonjudgmental, confidential care no matter what.

Planned Parenthood’s current guidelines call for:

  • Initial Pap screening at age 21;
  • Pap screening every three years for those aged 21–29;
  • Pap screening every three years for those aged 30–64 or every five years when those in the latter age group receive combined Pap and HPV tests; and
  • More frequent screenings for those at higher risk. 

Under the Affordable Care Act, Pap tests, testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and the HPV vaccine are all covered without having to pay out of pocket for copays and other expenses.

That means the New Year is a perfect time for people to take charge of their health with important preventive screenings.

Cervical health is important at all stages of life. Any person with a cervix can develop cervical cancer, so Planned Parenthood encourages anyone over age 21 to talk to a health care provider about cervical cancer screening.

What exactly causes cervical cancer?

It is caused by certain types of HPV (human papillomavirus), a very common sexually transmitted infection. In most cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally — but a high-risk form of HPV may lead to cervical cancer in some people. While there is no cure for HPV, there is treatment for the precancerous cell changes in the cervix that are caused by HPV. For those diagnosed with cervical cancer, Planned Parenthood helps provide access to trusted, quality resources to provide the necessary and specialized cancer care.

How can I protect myself from HPV (and thereby lower my risk of cervical cancer)?

  • Use protection if you have sex. Condoms can lower the risk of passing HPV if used correctly every time you have sex. But HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom — so they may not fully protect against HPV.
  • Talk with your sexual partners. You can be exposed to HPV by having genital skin-to-skin contact just once with someone who has the virus, so it’s important to talk with your partner about the importance of being protected and safe.
  • Get regular Pap tests. A Pap test can find abnormal cells (that are caused by HPV) in the cervix before the cells become cancer.
  • Get the HPV vaccine. Talk to your doctor or health care professional to learn more about getting vaccinated. Many Planned Parenthood health centers offer the HPV vaccine.

Is the HPV vaccine safe and effective?

The HPV vaccine is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of HPV, and studies have found it to be 98 percent effective in preventing the cervical cancer caused by the most common types of HPV.  The vaccine is safe. Medical guidance recommends that both girls and boys get the series of vaccinations when they are 9 to 14 years old because the vaccine works best when people receive it years before they start engaging in sexual behaviors. But even those who have had sex can benefit from the vaccine; it is available to anyone aged 9-26. 

Leading medical organizations support the vaccine. The FDA has approved this vaccine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended it. The American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as Planned Parenthood, support ensuring all young people getting the HPV vaccine.