January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, which spreads the word about cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV), and the importance of early detection. Nearly 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, but the disease is always preventable with vaccination and appropriate screenings.
The cause of 99 percent of cervical cancers, according to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC), is HPV, a sexually transmitted infection and the most important risk factor for cervical cancer. There are more than 100 HPV types, but more than 70 percent of cervical cancer cases stem from two HPV types.
Some of the other risk factors for cervical cancer include:
- Having a weakened immune system
- Chlamydia infection
- A diet low in fruits and vegetables
- Being overweight
According to the CDC, there are two screening tests that can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early. The first is a Pap test (also known as Pap smear), which looks for precancers, or cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if not treated. The second screening is a HPV test, which looks for the human papillomavirus that can cause the cell changes that can lead to cancer.
The CDC recommends women 21-65 should get screened for cervical cancer. Types and frequency vary person to person, but your doctor may only require you to get a Pap smear every three years based on your results. The most common screening is a Pap smear, and a Pap smear should be done in combination with HPV testing.
The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to be proactive, get screened, and encourage your female friends to do the same.
To find out if you qualify for a free or low-cost mammogram and Pap test and where to get screened, visit the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s HealthyWoman Program website here.
Your community hospital also my offer free or low-cost screenings. Contact your hospital to learn what may be offered in your community!