(HARLAN) January is Cervical Health Awareness Month.
Each year approximately 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and more than 4,000 die from it. Rachel Birks, RN with HCCMS Family Planning at Myrtue Medical Center in Harlan, says a virus called HPV causes cervical cancer.
“Over 99% of cervical cancer cases are caused by infection with HPV and almost all HPV cases are sexually transmitted,” explained Birks. “Scientists have known this for many years, but it’s just finally getting enough interest and spreading the news in the regular media that people are understanding that HPV is a type of a sexually transmitted disease, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of because over 60% of sexually active people, males and females, in the United States have it, so it’s not unusual.”
Birks said regular screening tests and vaccines can prevent HPV. “Pap tests are done to look for cervical cancer, or usually more likely the precursor or the early cancers or the cells that are just changing before they get to cancer,” said Birks. “So, if something is found early it can be taken care of by just a little removal of it, however most cases of pre-cancer of the cervix are taken care of by a woman’s immune system.”
Gardasil is a vaccine that provides protection against HPV and Birks said the vaccines are available to girls and boys age 11 and older and women and men up to age 26.
“It sounds funny if you haven’t heard of giving it to boys or young men because they don’t have cervixes, but men will spread that HPV back to women,” said Birks. “So if you are protected from HPV by getting your vaccine early, you won’t have to probably worry about it, so cervical cancer can be prevented by a vaccine.”
HCCMS Family Health Services in Harlan offers confidential reproductive and general health services at little to no cost. Examples of services include birth control, pregnancy testing, STD testing and treatment, physical exams and pre-conceptual counseling.