“Improving health” is usually a top resolution for the new year. Maintaining a healthy body all year round is also good idea.
It’s important to remember that much of your health and wellness is in your own beautiful hands. A wise woman, a real chingona, will take care of her health.
Information and awareness are primary tools needed to help combat potential health issues. So let’s start by discussing National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month (January).
Latinas are more likely to develop and die of cervical cancer because they are less likely to have access to early screening and early treatment or be able to pay for vaccines, screenings, or treatment.
Based on personal experience there is also a cultural norm that may be true for other Latinas: The issue of sexuality is often a taboo subject, one that is not discussed between Latina mothers and daughters. This impacts information and awareness of sexual health.
If I took a poll of twenty of my female relatives and friends and asked “Did your mother have a discussion with you about birth control, sexual health, or let you know it was okay to go to the doctor to get a pap test?” The answer, after snickering, a few “humpf,” and eye rolling, would be “NO.”
The “sex” conversation is usually, “Don’t come home pregnant…I’m not going to babysit kids…keep your legs closed…” or no conversation. But that is another story for another time.
Poverty, poor access, and lack of health coverage are a triple threat to all women.Each year approximately 12,000 women get cervical cancer in the U.S. This cancer, caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), is sexually transmitted
It can take weeks, months, or even years after exposure to HPV before symptoms develop or the virus is detected.
HPV is so common that most people get it at some time in their lives, but don’t know they have the virus since it usually causes no symptoms. In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years.
When HPV infections are not cleared from your body, it can cause genital warts, cervical cancer, or other cancers of the reproductive system.
The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types that can cause cancers. There is no way to know which people who have HPV will go on to develop cancer or other health problems.
Prevention is always better than treatment. See this site for more information.
. Think of these as more tools that can help you lower your risk for cervical cancer:
- Two FDA approved vaccines, Cervarix and Gardasil, are available to protect females against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. One of these vaccines (Gardasil) also protects against most genital warts. Either vaccine is recommended for girls as young as 9 years of age through 26 years. Approximately 35% of girls and young women who are eligible for these vaccines have completed the three-dose series.
- One available vaccine (Gardasil) protects males against most genital warts and cancers. Gardasil is recommended for 11 and 12 year-old boys, and for males 13 through 26 years of age, who did not get any or all of the shots when they were younger.
- Condoms may lower the risk of HPV or developing HPV-related diseases, such as genital warts and cervical cancer. But HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom , so condoms may not fully protect against HPV.
- Maintaining a faithful relationship with one partner, limiting number of sex partners, and choosing a partner who has had no or few prior sex partners. But even people with only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV.
- The only sure way to prevent HPV is to avoid all sexual activity.
Cervical cancer usually does not have symptoms until it is quite advanced. This makes routine cervical cancer screening and follow-up of abnormal results critical. The Pap test can find abnormal cells on the cervix so that they can be removed before cancer develops.
The Pap test is recommended for all women between the ages of 21 and 65 years old.
If you are older than 65 and have had normal Pap test results for several years, or if you have had your cervix removed as part of a total hysterectomy for non-cancerous conditions, like fibroids, your doctor may tell you that you do not need to have a Pap test anymore.
The good news is that cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers: when caught early, the five-year survival rate is nearly 100 percent.
Planned Parenthood health centers also offer affordable health care and confidential services like HPV vaccinations and Pap tests to women and teens. Many health insurance companies cover the vaccine, and some programs allow people without insurance to be vaccinated for little to no cost.
If you have a low income or do not have health insurance, you may be able to get a free or low-cost Pap test through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Find out if you qualify at this CDC site.
Now go out and share the information, schedule your own pap test, and/or open up the conversation about sexual health with your own kids. Make “Health” a resolution you will keep.