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Cervical Health Awareness Month

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Loraine Nolla, M.D., FACOG, of Lake Regional Obstetrics and Gynecology, encourages women to use this month to ask, “So how is my cervical health?”

“Keep in mind that cervical cancer was once the No. 2 cause of cancer deaths in American women,” Dr. Nolla said. “During the past 40 years, the death rate has dropped by more than 50 percent, as a result of prevention and early detection.”

Prevention

HPV (human papillomavirus) is a very common infection that spreads through sexual activity. It’s also a major cause of cervical cancer. About 79 million Americans currently have HPV, but many don’t know they are infected.

“The best way to treat HPV is to prevent it,” Dr. Nolla said. “That’s the power of vaccination.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all 11- and 12-year-olds — boys and girls — receive two shots of HPV vaccine six to 12 months apart. Adolescents who receive their two shots less than five months apart require a third dose of HPV vaccine.

Older adolescents who have not been vaccinated should still get the HPV vaccine. In fact, women up to age 26 and men up to age 21 can get the vaccine. Anyone older than 14 will need three shots in six months.

Early Detection

Another important weapon in the fight against cervical cancer is screening, which is done with Pap tests.

“Pap tests find problem cells before they become cancer,” Dr. Nolla said. “They also can identify HPV infections that pose the greatest risk for cervical cancer. That means we can treat women before cancer develops and save them from the consequences and suffering of cervical cancer.”

How often a woman needs a Pap test changes throughout her lifetime, depending on her age, history of HPV and history of cervical pre-cancer.

“Generally, after the initial screening at age 21, it is recommended to do a Pap test every three years, when normalcy is found, up to age 65,” Dr. Nolla said. “This can vary depending on findings and female surgeries women have had.”

Dr. Nolla adds the cervical cancer screening schedule should not be confused with annual visits.

“Even if you do not need an annual Pap test, there are still many reasons to visit your doctor at least once a year,” Dr. Nolla said. “Cervical health is just one of many issues that may confront you throughout your lifetime.”

Looking for an OB-GYN?

To make an appointment at Lake Regional Obstetrics and Gynecology, call 573-302-2764. To learn more about Dr. Nolla, view her online bio. Learn more about Lake Regional’s women’s health services at www.lakeregional.com/WomensHealth.