The new Ice Bucket Challenge has arrived, and it's way less messy than dumping water on your head. People are posting selfies of themselves with smudged lipstick under the hashtag #SmearForSmear to remind women how important pap smears are in the fight against cervical cancer.
Rita Ora and model Georgia May Jagger have already joined the cause and nominated their own friends -- including Cara Delevingne and Jordan Dunn -- to participate as well. Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust started the campaign this past Sunday (January 25th) to mark the start of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, and over 1,500 Instagram pics have been posted under the hashtag since then.
The CDC recommends that women over 21 get regular pap smears. Why? Because it could literally save their lives. Pap smears detect abnormal cell changes in the cervix, which can turn into full-blown cervical cancer if left untreated.
Luckily, if these changes are found early -- and they often are, thanks to paps -- the abnormal cells can be removed before they develop into cancer. But if you don't get a pap smear, your doctor will never know about the abnormal, aka pre-cancerous, cells.
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35, and it's usually caused by the human papillomavirus or HPV. You probably already know that HPV is a sexually transmitted infection, but it's more prevalent than you think.
The CDC says that most sexually active people will contract HPV, though many are able to fight off the infection within a few years. But if the virus persists, it can cause the pre-cancerous cell changes or genital warts depending on the exact strain.
HPV spreads through any type of sexual contact and can affect the entire genital area, so condoms -- while they provide some very necessary protection -- don't 100% protect you from this particular STI.
And sometimes HPV has zero symptoms, so people can transmit it for years without even knowing they have it in the first place. People with HPV often don't find out about it unless it causes warts or an abnormal pap test.
Vaccines like Gardasil and Cervarix protect against the two HPV strains that cause 70% of cervical cancers. This is awesome -- among teen girls in the U.S., there's been a 56% reduction in HPV infections thanks to these vaccines -- but getting vaccinated doesn't completely prevent cervical cancer. That's where regular pap smears come into play.
The definitive cure for cancer may not be here yet, but it's still pretty cool that modern medicine can prevent certain cancers. #SmearForSmear is a reminder that pap tests are one very important way to stop cervical cancer before it happens.
Visit MTV's It's Your Sex Life website for more info about HPV and sexual health in general.