Cervical cancer still a danger for older women

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, and Turenne PharMedCo wants you to know that there’s a lot you can do to prevent cervical cancer. Each year, more than 11,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer. Although cervical cancer is most commonly diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44, older women are still at risk for this potentially deadly disease. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 15 percent of cervical cancer cases are found in women over the age of 65.

The HPV factor
HPV (human papillomavirus) is a very common infection that spreads through sexual activity, and it causes almost all cases of cervical cancer. About 79 million Americans currently have HPV, but many people with HPV don’t know they are infected. Older women who become or remain sexually active in their later years are still at risk for becoming infected by HPV. However, even if an older woman is not sexually active in her later years, residual effects from an earlier HPV infection can occur. A 2012 study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases suggests that many older women infected with HPV in their youth may not "clear" it from their bodies as completely as once thought and the disease could potentially reactivate. Women who do not clear their HPV infections are a high risk for cervical cancer.

Still need screening
The positive news is that the HPV vaccine can prevent infections in younger women. For older women cervical cancer can often be prevented with regular screening tests and follow-up care. The most widely used test to screen for cervical cancer is the pap smear, which is regularly recommended for women starting at age 21. However, as women enter their senior years, this test may be done less often or not at all. Some women may think that because they are beyond childbearing years or not sexually active that they no longer need a pap smear. According to the National Institutes of Health, little more than half of women 65 or older have had a pap smear in the past three years, and 25 percent of older women have never been tested.

In honor of National Cervical Health Awareness Month, Turenne PharMedCo encourages:

  • Senior women to speak with their health care provider if they have not recently been tested for cervical cancer
  • All women to start getting regular cervical cancer screenings at age 21
  • Parents to make sure pre-teens get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12.Women up to age 26 and men up to age 21 can still get the vaccine.
Taking small steps can help keep you safe and healthy.

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