LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Schedule screenings to prevent disease, even death

Tuesday, January 21, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:21 a.m. CST, Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Every year, about 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and about 4,000 American women die of the disease.

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. To start the year off right by taking charge of their health, women should use this opportunity to schedule important preventive screenings such as Pap tests, which detect irregularities that can lead to cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is associated with certain types of HPV, or human papillomavirus, a very common sexually transmitted infection. In most cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally — but high-risk HPV may lead to cervical cancer in some women.

One of the best ways to prevent the spread of HPV is by getting the HPV vaccine. Unfortunately, as a nurse practitioner, I know there are still a lot of myths out there about the vaccine. It’s good to ask questions about any medication, but it’s also important to remember that the HPV vaccine is safe and effective.

The FDA has approved the vaccine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended it for girls and boys aged 11-12. The American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as Planned Parenthood, support ensuring that all young people get the vaccine.

Medical guidance recommends that both girls and boys get the vaccination when they are 11 to 12 years old because the vaccine works best when people receive it years before they start having sex. But even those who have had sex can benefit from the vaccine; it is available to anyone aged 9-26.

Contrary to what you might have heard, research shows that young people who get the HPV vaccine are no more likely to have sex than those who don’t get vaccinated.

As a bonus, the HPV vaccine appointment can give parents an opportunity to talk with their kids about sex and sexual health. We here at Planned Parenthood of Kansas & Mid-Missouri offer both services and welcome the community.

Kristin Metcalf-Wilson is lead nurse practitioner with Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri and an assistant teaching professor at MU.

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