January was cervical health awareness month, and the federal government, along with many advocacy groups, spent considerable time talking about early detection.

According to the National Cancer Institute and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), cervical cancer is largely preventable. If it’s detected early, it’s often curable too. Many experts say that the key to cervical cancer is vaccination and embracing the two tests used for early detection—Pap tests and human papillomavirus (HPV) testing.

“If cervical cancer is found early, it’s easier to treat,” Shvam Kalavar, cytologist at the FDA, said. “Through Pap smears and HPV tests, thousands of lives can be saved annually."

The FDA notes its approval of Gardasil 9, HPV 9-valent vaccine, an especially useful vaccine that can be used to protect against cervical cancer. According to Gruber, “It works like other vaccines that prevent diseases caused by viruses and bacteria. They prompt the immune system to protect against disease.”

HPV 9-valent vaccine protects against nine HPV types and can potential protect against 90% of cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and anal cancers. It’s also effective in preventing genital warts and has been approved for use in patients ages 9–26 years old.

“Women, including those who have been vaccinated, should continue to get Pap tests, because they are essential to detect cervical cancer and precancerous changes,” Marion Gruber, PhD, director of the FDA’s Office of Vaccines Research and Review, said. Gruber continued, “the full potential benefit is obtained by people who are vaccinated before becoming infected with the HPV types covered by the vaccine.”

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