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Women reminded to take steps to guard against cervical cancer

Jan. 24, 2012—Before this year is over, experts predict more than 12,000 U.S. women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and more than 4,000 will die from the disease.

While these numbers mark a 50 percent drop in cervical cancer rates over the past three decades, more can be done to prevent the disease, doctors say.

To that end, members of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American Cancer Society (ACS) and others are urging women to get regular Pap tests. These screening exams can detect abnormal cells in the cervix, which can be treated before they become cancer.

Women should talk with their doctor about when to begin screening and how often the tests should be repeated.

Recommendations for screening vary slightly between the groups: ACOG recommends that women have their first Pap test at age 21; the ACS recommends that women begin screening about 3 years after they start having sex—but no later than 21.

Follow-up tests are usually needed every year or two, depending on the type of test used. That schedule may be adjusted after a woman reaches age 30.

In addition, doctors also recommend that girls and young women get vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV). Certain strains of this common sexually transmitted infection can cause cervical cancer. HPV can also cause genital and anal warts and cancer of the mouth, head, neck, penis and anus.

Vaccines must be given before sexual activity begins. And because HPV is sexually transmitted and can cause cancers in males, the HPV vaccine is also recommended for boys and young men.

In addition to the vaccine and screening, women can also help avoid cervical cancer by being monogamous or practicing safe sex.

Visit the Cervical Cancer health topic center for more information about the disease.

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