About 75% of sexually active Albertans will get HPV in their lifetime.

Are you at risk for cervical cancer?

You may not realize that some of the lifestyle choices you make can decrease your risk for cervical cancer. That’s because this type of cancer is almost always the result of HPV (human papillomavirus). HPV is a virus that can change the cells of the cervix over time and cause cervical cancer.

HPV is extremely common in anyone who has been sexually active. That’s why just about every woman is at risk for cervical cancer. Normally, HPV clears up on its own so you may not even know if you’ve had it. When it doesn’t go away by itself, it can cause changes in the cells of the cervix that can become cancer.

As well, there’s a link between HPV and smoking. If you have an HPV infection and smoke – or you’re exposed to second-hand smoke – the risk of cervical cancer increases.

How you can reduce your risk

Choosing to have a Pap test as part of your regular health routine is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself against this preventable disease.

In addition to getting screened, you can reduce your chances of getting HPV, the main cause of cervical cancer:

  • Talk to your healthcare provider about the HPV vaccine and whether it’s right for you.
  • Understand that sexual activity or any skin-to-skin contact in the genital area increases your exposure to HPV.
  • Know that each new sexual partner increases the odds that you’ll come in contact with someone who has an HPV infection, putting you at risk of getting infected. Knowing your partner’s sexual history is also important.
  • Make the decision to use condoms, which reduce your chance of getting HPV. Keep in mind that the virus may be on skin that isn’t covered by a condom, so it can still be passed on even if condoms are used.
  • Understand that sexual activity at a young age increases your risk of being infected with HPV.

HPV is so common that it may be hard to avoid it completely in your lifetime. That’s why it’s important to consider these additional guidelines to reduce your risk of cervical cancer:

  • If you’ve ever been sexually active, make time to have Pap tests regularly starting at age 25, or 3 years after becoming sexually active, whichever is later.
  • Have a Pap test once every 3 years.
  • Have Pap tests regularly even if you’ve had the HPV vaccine, since the vaccine doesn’t protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer.
  • Smoking and second-hand smoke increases the risk of cervical cancer in women with HPV. Try to avoid both as much as possible.
  • Protect yourself from HPV (see above).

Why not find out right now about your risk for cervical cancer? Take our risk assessment.

Visit HealthierTogether.ca to learn more about ways to reduce your cervical cancer risk.

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