January Is Cervical Health Awareness Month
Despite being the fourth most common type of cancer for women worldwide, cervical cancer is also one of the most preventable forms of the disease.
In an effort to raise awareness, the U.S. Congress designates each January as Cervical Health Awareness Month. Across the country, nearly 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. Fortunately, that number is declining by roughly 2% each year, largely due to vaccination and proactive screening for the disease.
Here’s what you can do to protect the women in your life:
1. Know the risk factors for cervical cancer.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the overwhelming cause of cervical cancer. HPV, a common virus that’s easily spread, usually causes no symptoms, but certain forms of the infection can cause physical changes to the surface of the cervix, which can eventually cause cervical cancer. In addition to HPV, smoking cigarettes, HIV infection, extended use of birth control pills (five or more years) and having given birth to three or more children can increase the risk of cervical cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
2. Encourage the women you know to get screened and vaccinated.
The most effective way to prevent cervical cancer is to be screened starting at age 21. The two most common forms of screening are the Pap test (or Pap smear), which looks for precancerous cells on the cervix, and the HPV test. The HPV vaccine, which protects against the forms of HPV that commonly lead to cervical cancer, is also an effective means to proactively prevent the disease.
3. Be aware of free resources.
Most hospitals and health centers offer affordable screening and vaccinations that can prevent cervical cancer. Through the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, women who are low-income, uninsured and underinsured have access to free cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services.
4. Support awareness about the disease.
When it comes to cervical cancer, knowledge is power. By spreading information about risk factors and prevention, you can be part of the movement to decrease cases of cervical cancer.