Did you know that cervical cancer is the second biggest cause of cancer death for women? Unlike breast cancer, cervical cancer is preventable. The cause is a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV), which can be detected and prevented from developing into cancer. Not all types of HPV lead to cancer, but we now know which types are responsible for up to 70% of all cases.
Some women reason that because they use condoms, have been monogamous for years, are on birth control, or are lesbian, they don’t have to worry about HPV. But every woman who has ever had sex with anyone is at risk of HPV infection.
So what can women do to prevent cervical cancer? Here are a few tips from Tamika & Friends, a nonprofit organization founded by cervical cancer survivor Tamika Felder:
- Get Vaccinated: Women 9 to 26 years old are eligible to receive Gardasil, a vaccine that protects against the two types of HPV that are responsible for 70% of all cervical cancers. But take heed. Vaccination doesn’t necessarily equal immunity. If you’ve already been infected with HPV, the vaccine won’t protect you. And everyone who receives the vaccine still needs to be screened regularly because they aren’t protected from the remaining 30% of cervical cancer cases.
- Get Tested: The two key tests for cervical cancer prevention include the Pap test and the HPV test. Click here for guidance on how often you should receive each test, and be sure to consider visiting a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) or certified midwife (CM) to receive screening services. (You can find a midwife here!)
- Know Your Risk Status: Cervical cancer affects women of color unequally compared to white women. Hispanic women have twice the rate of cervical cancer as non-Hispanic white women, and African American women develop cervical cancer 50% more often than Non-Hispanic white women. If you are a woman of color, you deserve the best testing and best treatment. Know your options and make yourself heard.