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This Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, learn how to protect your health

This Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, learn how to protect your health

January is recognized as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Each year, the month offers the perfect opportunity to consider how much you know about your cervical health and what you can do to protect it.

Most women are quite familiar with the ubiquitous Pap test. While you have probably had a few of these screenings, you may not realize the exact purpose of the screening and why it’s so important.

Why there’s a Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

The month of January has been marked as National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month for many years. You may have even seen someone wear a teal ribbon pin to raise awareness. The occasion was established to raise awareness about cervical cancer—and for good reason.

In the past, cervical cancer was much more common in the United States and much more deadly. Before routine screenings were recommended, cervical cancer was often found in advanced stages, when it was less treatable.

Thanks to routine cervical cancer screening and the HPV vaccine, rates of cervical cancer continue to decrease among Americans.

What to know about cervical cancer

The American Cancer Society estimated that nearly 14,000 American women would be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2023, including 230 Louisianans. This type of cancer affects the cells of the cervix, which is the lower end of the uterus.

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted virus.

In its earliest stage, cervical cancer may not cause any noticeable symptoms. In some cases, though, a woman may experience unusual vaginal bleeding, vaginal discharge or pelvic pain. What’s considered unusual? Vaginal bleeding after sex, vaginal bleeding after menopause and vaginal bleeding between periods are all potential signs of cervical cancer.

As cervical cancer advances, it may cause other symptoms, including painful or difficult bowel movements or urination, pain in the abdomen or back, leg swelling, or extreme fatigue.

In most cases, cervical cancer is found through Pap tests in a precancerous stage—in other words before it ever even develops into cancer. When cancer develops, the earlier it is detected, the better. Cervical cancer is most treatable in its earliest stages, underscoring the importance of early detection.

How to protect your cervical health

Cervical cancer rates have been decreasing for many years now. That’s due in part to routine screenings but also the approval of the HPV vaccine in 2006.

You can take steps to prevent cervical cancer by having cervical cancer screenings as recommended and getting the HPV vaccine.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends getting a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer every three years between ages 21 and 29. Those between ages 30 and 65 can continue having a Pap test every three years or have an HPV test every five years or have both a Pap test and an HPV test every five years.

Talk with your OB/GYN or another women’s health provider about the screening routine that’s best for you.

The HPV vaccine can add another layer of protection for your cervical health and is recommended in two doses for children ages 11 to 14. Beyond that age, teens and young adults can also receive the vaccine. Beginning at age 15, you need three doses of the HPV vaccine.

In some cases, the HPV vaccine may be recommended for an adult between the ages of 26 and 45.

The HPV vaccine has been highly effective in reducing cervical precancers among vaccinated women, cutting the number by 40%. Because HPV is also associated with other types of cancer, including anal and oral cancers, getting the vaccine is also a way of preventing those cancers.

Together, these preventive tools have helped significantly decrease cervical cancer among American women. Do what you can to protect your cervical health.

Overdue for a well-woman checkup? Schedule an appointment with a women’s health provider with East Jefferson General Hospital today.