January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month – an opportune time to educate women about prevention, early detection and close follow-up of the human papilloma virus, or HPV.
Science has proven the association of HPV with the risk of developing cervical cancer, so physicians watch this infection very closely with the help of screening or Pap smears.
HPV is a viral infection, much like the flu, that your body has to fight off on its own, and most of the time, it does.
We even have a vaccine to prevent it. See this information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about who should get it and when.
For those women who may not have gotten the vaccine when available, we can still help prevent their chances of developing cervical cancer.
Certain types of HPV are not cleared from the body, and these are the ones we want to identify and screen for more regularly because they put a woman at a higher risk for cervical cancer.
The good news is that we now have effective ways of managing these high-risk strains but it takes the time and attention of both the doctor and the patient to do so.
Depending upon what cells in the Pap smear have to say about the severity of cervical dysplasia (abnormal, precancerous cells of the cervix), we might want to perform more diagnostic procedures to help get rid of the HPV. Or we may just decide to have more frequent Pap smears to see how the body is fighting off the infection.
The important lesson here is that all women should speak with their obstetrician gynecologist about the best screening plan for them, based on their individual history and risk.
Staying on top of this and in communication with their doctor, women have the best chance of not getting cervical cancer.