KNOXVILLE — January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, and Marion County Public Health and the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services are partnering to raise awareness about cervical cancer, the importance of prevention and how early detection can save lives.

In most cases, cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus, also known as HPV. This common virus is spread through skin-to-skin contact, even if the person infected doesn’t have signs or symptoms. It is estimated that nearly all people will get HPV at some point during their lifetimes – often without knowing it – making vaccinations and routine screenings important to women’s health.1

“About 10 percent of women with HPV infection on their cervix will develop long-lasting HPV infections that put them at risk for cervical cancer,” said Ashely Buckalew, Care for Yourself coordinator. “HPV vaccines are widely available and proven to be safe, effective and long-lasting in protecting against and reducing rates of cancer-causing HPV strains.”

The HPV vaccine can be started in all children at age 9 and is most effective when given before a person is exposed to the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone through age 26 be vaccinated for HPV, if they were not fully vaccinated already.

Screening also saves lives

Through regular screening, cervical cancer can be prevented or found early and addressed. Women should start getting a pap test at age 21, which looks for precancers, or cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if not treated. Having a regular HPV test can also help identify warning signs, including the virus that can cause these cell changes.

“Talking with your doctor about HPV and getting appropriate screening tests are important in helping protect yourself against cervical cancer — a very preventable and treatable disease,” notes Kim Dorn, director of Marion County Public Health. “Being proactive with your health benefits not only you, but also those you love.”

Free or low-cost cervical cancer screenings are available to Iowans with the Care for Yourself program. Those interested in learning more can call Ashley at Marion County Public Health at 641-828-2238 ext. 3821 for additional information and to find out if they are eligible.

HPV vaccinations are given free of charge at Marion County Public Health for those who are 18 and younger who have either no insurance, insurance that doesn’t cover vaccinations, is an American Indian or is enrolled in Medicaid. Call 641-828-2238 to schedule an appointment.

Additional information about cervical cancer, including symptoms, risk factors and what to expect during screening can be found at idph.iowa.gov/cfy/cervical-cancer.

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