Cervical cancer kills about 300,000 women each year, but it’s one of the most preventable and treatable cancers if caught early. January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month—a time to consider some key messages and to take action.
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2023, there will be about
- 13960 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed
- 4310 women who die from cervical cancer
The cervix is the name given to the lowest part of the uterus. Once, cervical cancer was a major cause of death for women in America, but with the increase of screening tests like the Pap test, many cases have been caught early and treated.
Early detection is crucial, says Meriah Ward, Family Practitioner and Clinical Informaticist at Advance Community Health and one of two providers at Advance’s Louisburg office. Cervical cancer is largely a “silent disease”, she adds, making screening before any signs or symptoms arise, doubly important.
Here’s more about cervical cancer awareness and prevention:
Why Is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month Important?
The Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is an opportunity to raise awareness about cervical cancer and how to stop it. Public health organizations at all levels are focused on ending cervical cancer in a few generations.
The theme for this year is:
We can end cervical cancer.
Get informed. Get screened. Get vaccinated.
There are several myths and misconceptions surrounding cervical cancer. Knowing the facts about the condition, and what you can do to prevent and treat it, can be life-saving.
Here are some facts to know:
- Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
- HPV infection can be prevented by taking a vaccine. This vaccine can be taken by 11 or 12 years, but can be given as early as age 9 and as late as age 45.
- Everyone should be offered the vaccine, both males and females.
- HPV is mainly but not only spread through unprotected sexual contact.
- Cervical cancer can be cured if diagnosed early and treated promptly.
- The Pap test is a screening test that helps to detect cervical cancer early. Everyone with a cervix should get a Pap test every three years from age 21 to 29 years. From age 30 to 65 years, this schedule can be combined with HPV testing every 5 years. The test is quick, does not require any anesthesia and causes minimal to no discomfort.
- Smoking can increase your cervical cancer risk.
Screening means checking for a disease when you don’t have any symptoms. Periodic screening for cervical cancer starts at 21 years and continues until 65 years.
The U. S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends cervical cancer screening with the Pap test alone every three years for women aged 21 years to 29 years. In women aged 30 to 65 years, the USPSTF recommends that women take just the Pap test every three years or HPV testing with or without a Pap test every five years.
After 65 years, some women will continue to be screened if any signs of cervical cancer had been detected in their last 2–3 screenings. Women with no detected abnormalities can decide to stop screening.
Since HPV is the cause of over 90% of cervical cancers, HPV vaccination is an important part of prevention.
All children aged 11–12 years should get two doses of HPV vaccine, given 6–12 months apart. However, the vaccine can be given as early as 9 years and up to the age of 45 years.
HPV vaccines should be given to all children—both boys and girls. The HPV vaccine reduces the risk of several cancers in boys and girls, including those of the cervix, vulva, head and neck, anus, and penis.
How else can you reduce your cervical cancer risk?
Apart from vaccines and screenings, you can also reduce your risk of cervical cancer in the following ways:
Limit exposure to the HPV virus: HPV causes over 90% of cervical cancer cases, and many other cancers too. HPV is very easily spread from an infected person to others. Also, HPV infection can spread through vaginal, oral or anal sex. But they can also spread from skin-to-skin contact. And the virus can be spread without sex.
Because HPV spreads so easily, it can be hard to limit exposure. However, you can limit the number of sexual patterns you have and avoid sex with people who have had many sexual partners.
Use condoms: Condoms can reduce your HPV risk, but they can’t protect you entirely because the virus also spreads through skin-to-skin contact.
Don’t smoke or inhale second-hand smoke: Smoking increases your risk of cervical cancer. If you do smoke, pleaeconsider getting help to quit.
What else can you do to help?
Cervical cancer awareness needs everyone’s participation. Other things you can do include:
- Support cervical cancer research.
- Support local cervical awareness efforts
Cervical cancer has become a cancer we can both prevent and one we can treat if caught early. In our lifetimes, we can even eliminate cervical cancer! With cooperation, collaboration and the right information, we can make this disease history once and for all. And support healthy, happy lives for women in our communities and around the world.
- Word Health Organization. Cervical cancer
- American Cancer Society. Key statistics for cervical cancer.
- S. Preventive Services Task Force. Cervical cancer: screening.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV vaccination recommendations.
- American Cancer Society. Risk factors for cervical cancer.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What can I do to reduce my risk of cervical cancer?