Jan. 1 marked the start of Cervical Health Awareness Month. In support of this annual educational effort, Health Net, Inc. (NYSE: HNT) is working to increase awareness regarding the importance of women having regular Pap tests, as well as the importance of both boys and girls receiving HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccines. “We really want women to know that cervical cancer is one of the most preventable female cancers,” says Jonathan Scheff, M.D., chief medical officer for Health Net, Inc. “Abnormal cell changes can be detected through Pap tests, and precancerous lesions can be treated and cured before they develop into cancer,” he adds. “As a result, cervical cancer, once one of the most common cancers affecting U.S. women, now ranks 14 th in frequency – according to the National Institutes of Health.” Scheff also commented on the HPV vaccine, noting, “Many people are under the impression that the HPV vaccine is just for girls, and are unaware that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the vaccine for boys as well. As part of Cervical Health Awareness Month, which is sponsored by the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, Health Net is focusing on sharing this information.” HPV Vaccine According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the most important risk factor for cervical cancer is infection from HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that is spread via skin-to-skin contact. The ACS also notes that the risk of contracting HPV is increased among women who’ve had many sexual partners, or who have a partner who’s had many partners. The National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) reports that 6 million new HPV infections occur annually in the United States, and about 20 million people – men and women – are thought to have an active HPV infection at any given time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), other factors that can increase the risk of cervical cancer include smoking, having HIV, using birth control pills for five or more years, and giving birth to three or more children.
The NCCC points out that, although HPV vaccines won’t eliminate all HPV or cervical cancer, the vaccines also can help prevent infection from the HPV that can lead to cervical cancer and can cause genital warts. With prevention in mind, the CDC recommends the three-dose HPV vaccine for girls ages 11 to 12. For girls and young women ages 13 through 26 who haven’t been previously vaccinated, a catch-up vaccination is advised. The CDC cautions that males also are at risk, and recommends that boys aged 11 or 12 and young men aged 13 through 21, who did not receive any or all of the three recommended doses when they were younger, receive HPV vaccinations.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved two HPV immunizations. Gardasil ® is a vaccine for both males and females; Cervarix ® is just for females. Cervical Cancer Facts The National Cancer Institute reports that – while cervical cancer is preventable in certain circumstances – it estimates that in 2012, more than 12,000 American women will have been diagnosed and nearly 4,000 will have died from an advanced form of the disease. Prevention through early detection is the key. Toward that end, the ACS recommends that women complete their first Pap no later than age 21. Women aged 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every three years, according to the ACS, unless advised otherwise by a health care professional. Women ages 30 through 65 can then be screened every five years with a Pap test combined with an HPV test, or every three years with a Pap test alone. Women with certain risk factors may need to have more frequent screening or continue screening beyond age 65. The ACS further cautions that, even if they’ve received the HPV vaccine, women still need a regular Pap screening.
While precancerous cells and early cervical cancer generally do not cause symptoms, the ACS notes that cervical cancer that has become invasive can cause symptoms, including:
- abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after sex or between periods, and having longer or heavier than usual periods;
- pain during sexual intercourse; and
- unusual vaginal discharge that may contain blood or occur between periods.
For more information on Health Net, Inc., please visit Health Net’s website at www.healthnet.com.This release contains links to other sites that are not owned or controlled by Health Net. Please be aware that Health Net is not responsible for the contents linked or referred to from this release. Links to other websites are provided for the user’s convenience. Health Net does not express an opinion on the content or the properties of such linked websites and disclaims any liability in connection therewith.