At one point in time, the leading cause of death among American women who died of cancer was cervical cancer. Thanks to advances in cancer screenings and research over the past 30 years, the rate of women dying from cervical cancer decreased by more than 50 percent. That is something to celebrate, but there is still work to be done.
Cervical Health Awareness Month
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and an opportunity to raise awareness about the risk of cervical cancer and HPV. The beginning of the year is a great time to think about your health and the coming year. Making it a priority to get to the doctor for a cancer screening is a good way to take initiative to a healthier you.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that of all gynecological cancers, cervical cancer is the easiest one to prevent through regular screenings.
The screening is done with a routine Pap test (also known as a Pap smear), which looks for abnormal cells on a cervix. The detection of these abnormal cells allows you and your doctor to closely monitor those cells in order to prevent them from becoming cancerous. The screenings can also spot cervical cancer early, which has the greatest chances of being treated and cured.
Pap tests take just a few minutes and are recommended for women aged 21 to 65. They can be done in a doctor’s office during a routine visit. During this visit, the doctor may also do a pelvic exam, which checks the uterus, ovaries, and other organs to ensure their proper function. It is important to note that the Pap test does not check for uterine or ovarian cancers. If you have annual Pap tests that come back normal for a few years, your doctor may tell you that you do Pap tests every three years. Visit the CDC’s website to learn about how to prepare for a Pap test.
Cervical Health Awareness Month is also a great opportunity for women to learn about HPV (human papillomavirus) and how to protect themselves.
HPV is a common infection spread from person-to-person through sexual activity. HPV is the cause of most cervical cancer cases. HPV is also linked to vulvar, penile, and anal cancers; cancer of the oropharynx (back of the throat); and genital warts.
Approximately 79 million Americans (both men and women) are infected with HPV. In fact, many people who have it do not know they have it, which is why it is so easy to unknowingly infect other people.
Individuals can be protected early in life with the HPV vaccine, a series of three shots over the course of the year. It is recommended for all preteens—both boys and girls—as it is most effective prior to the chance of exposure.
The other way to protect yourself is to get tested for HPV while visiting your doctor and ensure your sexual partners have been tested as well.
What Can You Do?
The idea of having cervical cancer can seem overwhelming and may cause a sense of apathy. Or you may think there is nothing you can do to prevent it. Don’t be afraid to take action on behalf of your health and wellness and that of those around you. There are several steps you can take to ensure your own wellbeing and that of your family and friends.
- Schedule a cervical cancer screening for yourself.
- Get plenty of sleep and exercise as well as eat a nutritious diet.
- Vaccinate your children (both boys and girls) against HPV.
- Spread the word that most insurance plans will completely cover a cervical cancer screening, meaning that there is no cost to patients to receive that screening service.
- Assemble a solid support system for yourself.
Remember that your life, health, and wellbeing are worth investing in with your time and energy.
Canopy Health & Cervical Cancer Screenings
Canopy Health advocates for the health of all Bay Area women and encourages you and all the women in your life to take proactive steps when it comes to your health by getting screened for cervical cancer.
Cervical Health Awareness Month. (2016). American Cancer Society. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/specialcoverage/cervical-health-awareness-month
Cervical Health Awareness Month. (2016, December 15). Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Retrieved from https://healthfinder.gov/nho/januarytoolkit.aspx
HPV Vaccines: Vaccinating Your Preteen or Teen. (2016, July 21). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/vaccine.html
What Should I Know About Screening? (2016, March 29). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/screening.htm