January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and according to the American Cancer Society, more than 12,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed each year with cervical cancer, and nearly 4,000 will die.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a major risk factor for cervical cancer. Individuals can decrease their risk of getting both HPV and multiple cancers by getting the HPV vaccine, which was previously only approved for people between the ages of 9 and 26. But in October of 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the age indication for the Gardasil 9 HPV vaccine, which can now be administered up to the age of 45.

What can you do?

HPV vaccines can help prevent infection from both high-risk HPV types that can lead to cervical cancer and low risk types that cause genital warts. The CDC recommends all boys and girls get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12 as the vaccine produces a stronger immune response when taken during the preteen years. For this reason, up until age 14, only two doses are the vaccine are required. The vaccine is available for all males and females through age 45 but, for those 15 and older, a full three-dose series is needed.

For women, a Pap test can be performed to determine risk of HPV. It can find cell changes to the cervix caused by HPV. HPV tests find the virus and help healthcare providers know which women are at highest risk for cervical cancer. Pap and HPV tests (either alone or in combination) are recommended for women over 30. Each woman should ask her health care provider how often she should be screened and which tests are right for her, as this varies from woman to woman.

Overall, make sure your immunizations are updated, and always practice safe sex with the use of condoms. If you keep yourself safe, you can keep your partner safe and vice versa. Additionally, avoiding tobacco and smoking can decrease your likelihood of developing cervical cancer. Knowledge is key, so make sure you and those you care about are staying educated on HPV.

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