Campus News

Health Column: January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

By Sue Danielson, health services

January is designated as Cervical Health Awareness Month. Nearly 13,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, but the disease is preventable with vaccination and appropriate screening such as Pap and HPV tests.

HPV vaccines can help prevent infection from both high-risk HPV types that can lead to cervical cancer and low risk types that cause genital warts. The CDC recommends all boys and girls get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12 as the vaccine produces a stronger immune response when taken during the preteen years. For this reason, up until age 14, only two doses are the vaccine are required. The vaccine is available for all males and females through age 45 but, for those 15 and older, a full three-dose series is needed.

A Pap test can find cell changes to the cervix caused by HPV. HPV tests find the virus and help health care providers know which women are at highest risk for cervical cancer. Pap and HPV tests (either alone or in combination) are recommended for women over 30. Each woman should ask her health care provider how often she should be screened and which tests are right for her.

In October, the Food and Drug Administration expanded its approval of the Gardasil 9 human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for women and men ages 27 to 45. Previously, the vaccine was available only for those up to age 26. The vaccine protects against nine different types of HPV, several of which cause cervical, anal, and mouth and throat cancers. Some studies show that oral carcinoma is now the most common HPV-linked cancer.

HPV is usually sexually transmitted, and most people pick up some of the more than 100 types soon after they start having sex. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends HPV vaccination for girls and boys at age 11 or 12, before they become sexually active.

Recent research has found that many people older than 26 have not yet been infected with all the HPV types covered by the vaccine and therefore can still be protected. One study of more than 3,000 women ages 27 to 45 showed that Gardasil 9 was 88 percent effective against persistent HPV infection, genital warts, precancerous lesions and cervical cancer caused by the nine virus types covered. There’s less research on men, but studies show they develop immunity as well as women do.

If you’re 45 or younger, ask your care provider whether the HPV vaccine is right for you.

(Information obtained from