Since infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most important risk factor for cervical cancer and precancers, it is important to avoid genital HPV infection.
HPV is a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex. According to Joshua Meyerson, Medical Director for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, at least half of sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives.
"Because HPV infection is so common, it is important for women to follow guidelines for Pap tests," he said. "Keep in mind, many people will have an HPV infection at some time in their lives, but few women will get cervical cancer. Pap tests can identify cervical cancer when it is entirely curable." Women should get Pap tests every two years beginning at age 21, or three years after sexual activity starts, whichever comes first. For certain women 30 years and older who have had three consecutive normal screening results, testing can be done every two to three years.
The Health Department of Northwest Michigan offers HPV vaccination, a series of three shots, for girls age 11 and 12 and for girls and women age 13 through 26 who did not get any or all of the shots when they were younger. HPV vaccination is available by appointment at Health Department clinics in Bellaire, Mancelona, Charlevoix, Petoskey/Harbor Springs, and Gaylord. Ask if you qualify for the reduced fee of $15.
Pap tests are available for free or low-cost through the Health Department's Breast & Cervical Cancer Control Program, Reproductive Health Program, and Plan First! program.
The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. For additional information or to schedule an appointment, call the Health Department at 800-432-4121.