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Northwest Colorado Health: Prevent cervical cancer — get vaccinated, get screened


Tamera Manzanares
Steamboat Pilot & Today

Cervical cancer once was one of the most common causes of cancer death among American women. This significantly improved as more women received cervical cancer screenings, which can detect changes in the cervix before cancer develops.

Despite this, cervical cancer remains a serious health threat. The American Cancer Society estimates 13,100 new cases of invasive, cervical cancer will be diagnosed this year, and 4,250 women will die from the disease.

Different types of the human papillomavirus or HPV cause cervical cancer. HPV is common — more than half of sexually active men and women are infected with HPV at some time. Most people with HPV never develop symptoms or health problems. However, sometimes, HPV infections will persist, causing cancer in both men and women.



Immunization helps prevent HPV-related cancers. Ideally, individuals receive the vaccine during their preteen years when it produces a stronger immune response. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends preteens age 11 or 12 get two shots of the vaccine six to 12 months apart. Teens who are older than 14 years should receive three shots within six months.

Teens and young adults who have not received the vaccine but are sexually active should still get immunized to protect against types of HPV they may not yet have been exposed to. HPV immunization is recommended for women through age 26 and young men through age 21. For more information, visit cdc.gov/hpv.



Cervical cancer screening or Pap test, also called a Pap smear, is the most important weapon against cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends women begin Pap tests at age 21 and continue screenings every three to five years depending on their age, any health conditions they have and risk for cervical cancer.

HPV is rarely a threat to young women in their teens and 20s; their immune systems usually clear the virus and related cell changes. Cervical cancer is most common in women during midlife. Starting at age 30, women have the option of receiving HPV tests, which can find high-risk types of the virus that lead to cervical cancer. Co-testing (Pap test and HPV test) is more likely to detect abnormal cell changes than either test alone.

Cervical cancer screening recommendations can be confusing. Be sure to talk to your health care provider about the best plan of action for you.

Women age 21 to 64 who do not have health insurance or are underinsured may be eligible for free Pap tests and breast exams.

For more information, call Northwest Colorado Health at 970-879-1632.

Tamera Manzanares is Marketing Coordinator at the Northwest Colorado Health. She can be reached at tmanzanares@northwestcoloradohealth.org or 970-871-7642.


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