Happy January! Not just the first month of the year, January is also Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. How much do you know about cervical cancer? It’s important to take preventative measures, but do you know how to do that?

What Causes Cervical Cancer?

Those assigned female at birth are typically born with a cervix, which connects the uterus to the vagina. While cervical cancer most often affects people as adults, there’s a super effective way to prevent it starting when you are young (more on that coming up).

You may be wondering—what even causes cervical cancer? Well, the majority of cases are caused by something called Human Papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that most sexually active people will get at some point. Many of them will clear it from their bodies without even knowing they had it; there are over 150 strains of HPV and most of them will not harm you or cause any symptoms at all.

However, some strains of HPV can lead to complications, like cervical cancer or genital warts. In fact, HPV is related to over 90% of cervical cancer cases, with two strains (16 and 18) responsible for approximately 70% of cervical cancer cases, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The HPV Vaccine Can Help

Don’t despair, though, there’s good news! First available in 2006, the HPV vaccine—the latest version is called Gardasil 9—can reduce the risk and impact of cervical cancer, along with other cancers that are caused by HPV. The “9” in the name refers to the nine strains of HPV the vaccine targets, which are linked both to the vast majority of cervical cancer cases (as well as anal and throat cancers) and most cases of genital warts!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children age 11-12 receive two doses of the vaccine, six months apart. Anyone from age nine to 14 can follow the same two-dose recommendation. Those that choose to get the vaccine at a later age should receive three doses, spaced apart.

The vaccine has more recently been approved for people up to the age of 45. However—and this is important to know—the ideal time to get the vaccine is before you are sexually active. It’s been shown that the body’s immune response to the vaccine will be strongest when you are a preteen.

Get the Facts

Hold on! We aren’t done yet. When you’re browsing the internet or talking to your friends, it’s easy to get caught up in myths about the vaccine. To separate facts from truth, here’s some important info:
1. The HPV vaccine is safe. There are potential side effects like pain and redness at the injection site, but more serious reactions are rare and a review of “follow-up studies worldwide found no serious health risks.”

2. While originally recommended just to those assigned female at birth, the vaccine is now recommended for everyone, no matter your sex.

3. The HPV vaccine does not encourage or increase sexual behavior. While some parents worry about this, studies show it not to be the case.

Hopefully now you have a better sense of what cervical cancer is and how you can prevent it. Remember that if you need more information or are looking for somewhere to get the vaccine, talking to an adult like a parent or health care provider can help answer questions. Check out our clinic finder.

HPV is super common. Cervical cancer doesn’t have to be.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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