Cervical Health Awareness Month
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. What should you know about cervical cancer?
Some fast facts from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention tell us:
– All women are at risk for cervical cancer.
– Women who smoke, have HIV, have used birth control pills for more than five years, and/or have given birth to three or more children are at increased risk.
– More than 12,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year.
– Human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus passed during sex, is the main cause of cervical cancer.
– Cervical cancer is highly curable when found and treated early.
– Cervical cancer is the easiest gynecologic cancer to prevent with regular screening tests and follow-up.
That last stat is key! Cervical cancer is preventable! Cervical cancer is rare in women who get regular screening tests.
There are two tests to know about — Pap tests and HPV tests.
– A Pap test’s purpose is to regularly look for changes in the cervix that might be early indicators of cancer. All women should start having Pap tests at the age of 21. How often you follow up depends on your age, the outcome of the test and your risk. Early cervical cancer may not cause any signs or symptoms, so getting a Pap test is the best way to detect it early, when it’s most treatable.
– An HPV test looks for HPV. As mentioned previously, HPV can cause cervical cancers and is transmitted by skin to skin contact. Most sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives, and you are more likely to get it if you started having sex at an early age or if you or your partner have had sex with several others. Limiting the number of sexual partners and using condoms during sex can reduce this risk. Some people may also consider getting the HPV vaccine. Most HPV infections do go away on their own and do not turn into cervical cancer. However, women over 30 are still recommended to start HPV testing.
Talk to your healthcare provider about screening options and the best plan for you. Remember, screening and early detection saves lives! If you are in need of free or low-cost Pap tests, there are options available! Visit the Wisconsin Well Woman Program to find out if you are eligible.
And for more information about cervical cancer, there are some great resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Cancer Society. The Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation also offers a free health education session about cervical cancer and other gynecological cancers through it’s GrapeVine Program.