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Fight HPV with test, screening, vaccination

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.

Over the past decade, the growing body of knowledge related to viruses and the role they play in infection and cancer has grown tremendously. As the medical community begins to unwind the co-factors and promoters related to these processes, we are finally beginning to see some effective changes in prevention and protection. There is a greater understanding of lifestyle risks, exposure risks, environmental risks and, finally, protective factors.

It is generally understood that a viral infection has no treatment and that the resolution of a viral infection is primarily a function of the body’s immune system. That being said, let’s focus on protection from one of these cancer-causing viruses.

When discussing cervical cancer, the most important protection is early detection. It is now understood that 99 percent of cervical cancers are caused by an unresolved human papillomavirus infection. Identifying an HPV infection/abnormal Pap test result is a vital step in cervical cancer prevention. In fact, since the introduction of the Pap test the overall incidence of cervical cancer has decreased substantially.

The Pap test is widely used to aid in early detection of pre-cancerous cells of the vagina and cervix. A Pap test is a screening test in which cells from the cervix are collected and then examined by a cytotechnologist for pre-cancerous and cancerous changes. These abnormal changes can be detected before any symptoms are present. Additional protective factors include HPV detection by molecular diagnostics and HPV vaccination.

In summary, the best protection from cervical cancer comes from three actions:

• Routine cervical screening through a Pap test.

• Obtaining an HPV test, collected at the same time as a Pap.

• HPV vaccination.

Do you need more information about obtaining a Pap test? Call the Cancer Program Office at 329-5654 to see if you qualify for the free cervical screening event this weekend.

Here are the details:

When: Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Who qualifies: Any woman older than 21 who is uninsured and did not have a Pap test in 2012

Where: Partnership Health Center, 323 W. Alder St., Missoula.

Why: Early detection is key in prevention of cervical cancer and can save your life

This is an annual event that is sponsored by Community Medical Center, St. Patrick Hospital and Partnership Health Center. The goal of this event is to promote the health and wellness of women in our community.

Here’s to educating yourself and effectively managing your health care in the new year.

Jennifer Bailey is the lead cytotechnologist in the Laboratory Department at Community Medical Center.