January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. While getting a Pap test isn’t something most women look forward to doing, regular Pap tests play an important role in catching cervical cancer in its pre-cancerous stages when it’s most treatable.
Most cervical cancer begins as a sexually transmitted infection called HPV, or human papillomavirus. HPV can silently pass from person to person, often without any symptoms. If you’re enrolled in a Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota (BCBSND) health plan, Pap test coverage is provided.
Not sure if you’re at risk for contracting HPV? Risk factors include:
- Multiple sexual partners (especially if they’ve also had multiple sex partners)
- Sexual activity before age 18
- A weak immune system
- Other sexually transmitted infections — such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis or HIV/AIDS
- Sex with uncircumcised males
- Cigarette smoking
To decrease your risk, the American Cancer Society recommends that you don’t smoke, get vaccinated and postpone sex because the fewer sexual partners over your lifetime, the lower your odds of contracting HPV. The Federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends girls get vaccinated before they become sexually active.
Parents should consider whether to have children vaccinated for HPV. The HPV vaccine is covered on BCBSND health plans for males and females when given according to current clinical guidelines. The HPV vaccine is recommended for both boys and girls ages 11-12, but can be given from ages 9-26. It is administered in a series of three shots. When making your decision whether to have your children vaccinated, take into consideration that the vaccine has some side effects and allergy alerts. The vaccine is effective on most, but not all types of HPV. And the vaccine only prevents HPV. It will not treat an existing HPV.
Denise Pinkney is an editor in the Communications department at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.