HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a common virus that can cause cancers later in life. Most HPV infections (9 out of 10) go away by themselves within 2 years. HPV is also the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. HPV vaccines can prevent some of the health effects HPV causes. But sometimes, HPV infections will last longer and can cause some cancers, including cervical cancer.
According to the CDC, each year in the United States, about 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed and about 4,000 women die of this cancer. Hispanic women have the highest rates of developing cervical cancer, and Black women have the highest rates of dying from cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is preventable thanks to the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. This vaccine is recommended for all children between the ages of 9 – 12 and also for everyone through age 26 years of age. Based on previous exposure to HPV, the vaccine is not recommended for everyone older than 26 years of age.
WHEN TO GET SCREENED?
The vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV, so to help prevent cervical cancer it’s important to have regular screening tests. The CDC recommends, if you are at average risk and aged 21 to 29 years old, you should start getting the pap test beginning at age 21. If your results are normal, your doctor will likely recommend you can wait three years until your next pap test.
If you are 30 to 65 years old, you should consult your doctor about which testing option is right for you: an HPV test, a Pap test, or an HPV test along with a Pap test. If your HPV test results are normal you can wait five years until your next screening test, if you do a Pap test only and the results are normal you will likely wait three years until your next Pap test.
If you are older than 65 and have had normal screening test results for many years, no cervical precancer, or your cervix has been removed as part of a total hysterectomy for non-cancerous conditions your doctor will likely tell you that you don’t need to be screened for cervical cancer. Be sure to consult your health care provider about what’s right for you.
If you have a suppressed immune system or have had cervical cancer or precancerous conditions, your healthcare provider will likely recommend more frequent screening.
Most people will get HPV in their lives and it’s the cause of almost all cervical cancer. For most women, HPV goes away on its own, but there are types of HPV that can cause changes on the cervical that can lead to cervical cancer over time.
Additional risk factors include smoking, having HIV or any condition that lowers your immunity.