January is Cervical Cancer Prevention Month
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. For women with HIV, the observance is an important reminder of their greater risk of cervical cancer and the importance of routine screening. It is also an opportunity to educate everyone that an effective vaccine is available to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can cause cervical and other types of cancer.
Women with HIV and Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is cancer that starts in the cervix, the lower, narrow part of the uterus. It is almost always caused by HPV infection. The disease is preventable with vaccination and appropriate screening.
As discussed on HIV.gov’s page on HIV and Women’s Health Issues, the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer are more common in women with HIV. For this reason, women with HIV need to get regular Pap tests to help find changing cervical cells before they turn into cancer. Women with HIV should talk to their health care provider about the Pap test schedule that is right for them.
HPV Vaccination Can Prevent Cervical and Other Cancers
Every year in the United States, 35,900 people (including women and men) are estimated to be diagnosed with a cancer caused by HPV infection, according to the CDC. Although cervical cancer is the most well-known of the cancers caused by HPV, there are other types of cancer caused by HPV including cancers of the penis, anus, vulva, vagina, and throat.
A widely available, safe HPV vaccine could prevent more than 90% of cancers caused by HPV from ever developing. That would prevent an estimated 33,000 cases in the United States every year. HPV vaccination is recommended for youth aged 11–12 and young adults through age 26 who are not up-to-date with vaccine recommendations. In addition, the HPV vaccine is recommended for women and men with HIV infection age 13 through 26.
STI National Strategic Plan Seeks to Boost HPV Vaccination and Reduce HPV Infections
HPV is highlighted in the STI National Strategic Plan, which aims to reverse the dramatic rise in STIs in the United States. Approximately 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and young people aged 15–24 account for 49% of HPV infections.
As discussed in the plan, HPV is the most common viral STI, is easily transmitted, can lead to cancers in both men and women, and 92% of cancers caused by HPV can be prevented by an underutilized HPV vaccine. Only 54% of females and 49% of males aged 13–17 were up-to-date with a completed HPV vaccine series, as of 2018 according to CDC. (Read more about the STI National Strategic Plan’s approaches to reducing HPV and other STIs and their adverse health consequences.)