Protect yourself against cervical cancer

January 29, 2013 Denise Pinkney

Exercise more. Eat better. Get a Pap test. All good things to do in 2013.

Wait? Get a Pap test? It may sound strange, but it really is an important component to women's health.

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know that more than 12,000 American women will be diagnosed this year? Nearly 4,000 die from an advanced form of the cervical cancer every year.

The American Cancer Society recommends women receive their first Pap test at age 21 or earlier if they are sexually active.


Most cervical cancer begins as a sexually transmitted infection called human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus can silently pass from person to person, often without any symptoms. That's why it's so important to receive regular Pap tests.

The sooner the cancer is detected, the more treatable it is. Thanks to early detection and more effective treatment, rates of cervical cancer have dramatically decreased since the 1950s.

Not sure if you're at risk for cervical cancer? Risk factors include:

  • Multiple sexual partners (especially if they've also had multiple sex partners)
  • Sexual activity before age 18
  • A weak immune system
  • Other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) — such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis or HIV/AIDS
  • Sex with uncircumcised males
  • Cigarette smoking

Parents should consider whether to have children vaccinated for HPV. The vaccine is given to girls and boys as young as age 9 and as old as their mid-20s. It prevents but doesn't treat an existing HPV. There are some side effects and allergy alerts. The vaccine is effective on most, but not all types of HPV.

I know, talking about Pap tests doesn't seem like a lot of fun, but doing so could help you or someone you love live healthier and longer.