This year alone, an estimated 12,990 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer. But by taking the right steps to protect yourself from the human papillomavirus (HPV), you can lower your risk.
HPV is a very common infection that spreads through sexual activity. In fact, an estimated 79 million Americans currently have HPV, and each year, more than 11,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer. Though there are many strands of HPV, types 16 and 18 are the major causes of cervical cancer.
To lower your risk of developing cervical cancer, it’s vital to make smart lifestyle and health choices.
Get screened for cervical cancer
The most important thing women can do to help prevent cervical cancer is to have regular screening tests starting at age 21. Two key tests are:
- The Pap test (or Pap smear) detects pre-cancers, or cell changes on the cervix that may become cervical cancer.
- The HPV test looks for the virus that can cause cervical cell changes.
HPV vaccines can guard against cervical cancer
For women, two HPV vaccines are available to protect against the types of HPV (16 and 18) that cause most cervical cancers. But even if you’re vaccinated against HPV, you still need to have regular Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer.
HPV vaccines are also recommended for boys and girls starting at age 11, for young women through age 26 and young men through age 21. And since anyone who has ever had sex is vulnerable to HPV, it’s important to ask your doctor about getting vaccinated.
Other ways to protect cervical health
To lower your risk for cervical cancer, implement these healthy lifestyle habits:
- Don’t smoke, or quit if you currently smoke
- Use condoms during sex
- Limit your number of sexual partners
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