This January, Cervical Cancer Awareness Month serves as a reminder for women to stay on top of their reproductive health to prevent deadly diseases.
Almost 13,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. However, cervical diseases that can lead to cancer are preventable with proper care and testing.
According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, cervical cancer is preventable with appropriate screening, including pap and HPV testing, as well as HPV vaccination. During Cervical Cancer Awareness Month this January, NCCC and its nationwide chapters are raising awareness for cervical diseases and the importance of testing for them early on.
What is HPV?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses that infect the skin. About 14 million new cases of HPV occur each year and approximately 79 million people in the U.S. have HPV at any given time. There are more than 100 types of HPV, with some causing genital warts (low risk) and others that are linked to cervical cell changes that can increase the risk for cervical cancer (high risk). While screenings are important for detecting and treating high-risk HPV cases at their earliest stages, many other HPV infections cause no issues and are naturally cleared by the body within one to two years, according to the NCCC.
How is HPV related to cervical cancer?
Certain types of high-risk HPV strains cause changes in cervical cells, which are identified during screenings when test results come back as abnormal. If these pre-cancerous cells aren’t detected in time, they can turn into cervical cancer. HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for nearly 70 percent of all cases of cervical cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
How can HPV be prevented?
The American Cancer Society states that regular screenings can help identify pre-cancerous cells and prevent the development of cancer. It is during these screenings that a Pap test can detect changes to the cervix that are caused by HPV. Women should pursue cervical cancer screenings beginning at age 21. Between the ages of 21 and 29, Pap testing can occur every three years, and every five years for women between the ages of 30 and 65. For women 30 and over, an HPV co-test is recommended. Take the time this January to schedule tests for yourself and remind your family members to take their health in their own hands, too.
4 Fast Facts About Cervical Cancer
1. Cervical cancer is the first cancer in women to be identified as being caused almost exclusively by a virus.
2. Cervical cancer most commonly takes 10 years to 20 years or more to develop.
3. Regular screening with Pap and HPV will detect virtually all pre-cancerous changes and cervical cancers.
4. Cervical cancer is completely preventable if precancerous cell changes are detected and treated early.