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.