Cervical Health Awareness Month: Women, Get Tested!

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, focused on cervical cancer – a cancer that, unlike so many others, is largely preventable.
That’s why advocacy groups, such as the Pearl of Wisdom Campaign to Prevent Cervical Cancer, are urging women to protect themselves and their sisters, daughters and friends from this fatal disease – the second leading cancer in women worldwide.
Three simple actions make all the difference in preventing cervical cancer:
  1. Receiving annual Pap tests
  2. Getting the HPV (human papilloma virus) test
  3. Obtaining the HPV vaccine
The vaccine is recommended for girls and women between the ages of 11 and 26 years old. Women 21 and older should receive an annual Pap test, which detects the abnormal cells that can lead to cervical cancer. And women 30 and older should get the Pap test and HPV test together, as part of routine cervical cancer screening. The HPV test detects the virus that causes cervical cancer, identifying women at increased risk who need closer monitoring.

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), a common virus spread through sexual intercourse. Some strains lead to cervical cancer, while others aren’t problematic at all.

The cancer usually develops slowly, starting as a precancerous condition called dysplasia. The condition is 100 percent treatable and can be detected through Pap tests. It can actually take years to turn into cervical cancer, which is why the cancer is often found in women who don’t schedule regular Pap exams or follow-up on abnormal exam results. Often, early cervical cancer has no symptoms, but they can appear over time.

Risks for cervical cancer include risky sexual behavior (having sex at an early age, with multiple partners or partners who participate in risky sexual activities), as well as poverty, weakened immune systems, lack of access to routine medical care and not getting the HPV vaccine. Women whose mothers took the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) during pregnancy in the early 1960s to prevent miscarriage are also at a higher risk for cervical cancer.

About 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the U.S. every year, and more than 4,000 women die from the disease annually.

Women, don’t let yourself be one of them! Encourage all the women in your lives – your partners, wives, mothers, sisters, friends and daughters – to schedule annual gynecological exams, and get an HPV test and vaccine (when age-appropriate).

This is one cancer we can kick today!

-Jen Andruzzi

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