January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. This form of gynecologic cancer can be dangerous, but is also highly preventable, as well as being very treatable and curable when caught early.
The main cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV). Both men and women can get HPV. At least half of adults – and some research suggests a much higher percentage – will have HPV in their lifetime. This does not mean every woman with HPV will get cervical cancer, but that having HPV increases the chances.
This is why preventive measures and screenings are so important.
About 12,000 women in the United States alone are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. There are no early signs or symptoms, but the Pap test (sometimes called a Pap smear) looks specifically for precancer cells, cell changes, and cancer cells. This test finds the cancer early, when it is very treatable.
The CDC recommends the Pap test for women 21-65.
Be sure to talk to your doctor about frequency of Pap tests. For some women, a yearly Pap is necessary. For others, it can be less frequent.
The best ways to reduce the risk of getting cervical cancer include:
– Get vaccinated against HPV before you are 26. Be sure to speak with your doctor about the specifics of this vaccine.
– Don’t smoke, or quit smoking if you do smoke.
– Get screened regularly. You and your doctor can determine the appropriate timing.
– Use condoms whenever you engage in sexual activity.
Be sure to protect yourself and your loved ones with screenings and preventive tips.