Cervical Cancer Prevention for Teens: A Multifaceted Approach

A new year means bigger and better vaccination goals! As we begin goal setting for the year ahead, preventive health is a top priority. January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, so let’s make cancer prevention for teens a priority with vaccination and preventive maintenance health steps. Both parents and healthcare providers (HCPs) can take an active role in keeping young people healthy and cancer free. 

Now is the perfect time to check in on the adolescent recommended vaccine schedule to make sure teens have gotten or are on track to get all HPV doses. 2024 holds promise for getting teens up to date on all their recommended vaccines and achieving Unity’s 90% vaccination coverage goal. Today, we’ll focus the spotlight on Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and preventive maintenance to stay on top of cervical health. Cancer prevention doesn’t have to be scary, let’s talk about it! 

Prevention: HPV Vaccination 

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of more than 150 viruses, transmitted through vaginal, anal, oral sex, or close skin-to-skin touching. Often, people with HPV won’t have symptoms but can still pass on the infection. The good news is that HPV vaccination protects against many HPV-related cancers and cases of genital warts 

It’s important for parents to know that the HPV vaccine is safe and effective, and all preteens (including boys and girls) should get their first dose at age 11 or 12, but they can start as early as age 9. Even if your teen is not sexually active, getting the HPV vaccine early creates a strong immune response to fight infection later.  

HPV vaccination is given as a two- or three-dose series, depending on age of first dose vaccination. Studies show that for teens getting their first dose on time at ages 9 – 12, two doses of the HPV vaccine provide the best protection against the virus. At ages 13 and above, teens follow a “catch-up” three-dose schedule, so getting the HPV vaccine on time means fewer vaccinations and fewer trips to the doctors’ office. In the same way parents prioritize sunscreen to prevent skin cancer, it is critical to equip adolescents and young adults with necessary protection against cervical, and other types of cancer through HPV vaccination. The bottom line is HPV vaccination = cancer prevention, which is everyone’s top priority in getting adolescents and young adults this necessary vaccine to keep them healthy. 

Preventive Maintenance: Cervical Cancer Screening 

We heard your teen got their HPV vaccine. What more can they do to stay on top of cervical cancer prevention? Cervical cancer screening is an essential component of preventive health. Adolescents and young adults have agency and autonomy to make positive decisions for their health. So, what does that entail? If your young adult is at least 21 years old, as a parent you can encourage Pap tests (or Pap smears) to screen for cervical “precancers.” Teens should feel confident in making this decision as a cervical cancer preventive tool. Done in a doctor’s office or clinic, Pap tests are a way to make sure cells in the vagina and cervix look normal. If everything looks healthy, doctors recommend repeating a Pap smear every three years. Most abnormal cells result from cervical or vaginal infection and are not cancerous. It’s important that unusual cells are identified early so HCPs can create a follow-up plan to keep your teen healthy and make sure abnormal cells do not lead to cancer. With routine screening cervical cancer is preventable. Let’s empower young adults to take control of their cervical health! 

Ready to Learn More? 

While you’re looking ahead to set health and wellness goals for the year, give these resources a read to stay “in-the-know” about cervical cancer prevention and preventive maintenance: 

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Madeline McNee

Madeline McNee

Madeline is an Outreach and Development Intern with Unity® Consortium. She is responsible for supporting the execution and development of key initiatives and strengthening relationships with contributing organizations.

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