Cervical Cancer Vaccine

If a vaccination became available that protected against cancer, would you want it? Chances are, you would be very interested, and likewise, encourage your friends and family to get vaccinated. The great news is this vaccination exists – it protects against the virus that causes most cervical cancers.

According to the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer affects nearly 11,000 women in the United States every year, and of these 11,000, approximately 4,000 women will die from it. Prior to the introduction of the Pap test (test that examines the cells of the cervix for abnormalities), cervical cancer was the leading cause of death from cancer in women in the United States. It is still a leading cause of death from cancer in women around the world.

Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the Human Papillomavirus or HPV. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that can infect both women and men who engage in sexual intercourse or sexual contact. As many as 50% of sexually active people catch HPV during their lifetime, and many do not show any signs or symptoms.

The body’s immune system usually prevents HPV from doing any harm. However, two strains of the HPV virus cause 70% of all cervical cancer; the HPV vaccination protects against these two strains.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that girls ages 11- 12 receive the vaccine. It is also recommended for girls and women ages 13-26 who have not previously been vaccinated. The vaccine is most effective if given prior to becoming sexually active, but should still be given if already sexually active or with a history of HPV.

Do I still need a pap test?

Receiving the vaccine that protects against HPV does not mean that you should forgo routine Pap tests. Even if you have been vaccinated against HPV, routine Pap tests are still the most effective way to detect cervical cancer in its early stages. Talk to your heath care provider to determine how often you need a Pap test.

The HPV vaccine, along with routine Pap tests, is your best defense against cervical cancer. To discuss your risks for cervical cancer or any other health concerns, make an appointment at the Winneshiek Medical Center Clinic by calling 563-382-2911.

Questions to ask about cervical cancer prevention at your next appointment (from the National Women’s Health Resource Center)

  1. How often should I have Pap test?
  2. Should I have the HPV test? Why or why not?
  3. How will I learn the results of the Pap test and /or HPV test?
  4. If I have HPV, what should I do?
  5. What can I do to prevent HPV infection if I’m already sexually active?
  6. What should I tell my partner?
  7. Am I eligible for the HPV vaccine? What about my daughters?