Jennifer Lessinger is a professional writer and editor who learned the value of patient empowerment during her struggle with a hard-to-diagnose and complex endocrine disorder.
January is National Cervical Health Awareness Month, so we wanted to shine a light on this disease. Nearly 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, but the disease can be preventable with vaccination and appropriate screening (Pap and HPV tests). It also can be cured when found early and treated. Women should start getting screened regularly, starting at age 21.
Two tests help prevent cervical cancer or find it early:
- The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, which are cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.
- The HPV test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.
The Pap test is recommended for women between ages 21 and 65, and can be done in a doctor’s office or clinic. Women should start getting Pap tests regularly at age 21. If your Pap test results are normal, your doctor may say you can wait three years until your next Pap test. If you are 30 years old or older, you may choose to have an HPV test along with the Pap test. Your doctor can perform both the Pap and HPV tests at the same time. If your test results are normal, your chance of getting cervical cancer in the next few years is very low. Your doctor may then say you can wait as long as five years for your next screening.
If you have a low income or do not have health insurance, you may be able to get a free or low-cost Pap test through CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Find out if you qualify.
Get the HPV vaccine if you are in the age group for which it’s recommended. The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. HPV can also cause cancers of the penis in men, and anal and head and neck cancers in both men and women.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for preteens (both boys and girls) aged 11 to 12 years, but can be given as early as age 9 and until age 26.
Make an appointment today for your or your child’s vaccination. If you don’t have insurance, or your insurance does not cover vaccines, CDC’s Vaccines for Children program may be able to help.
For a full list of awareness months please visit our Cancer Awareness Calendar 2018.
What Can You Do?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests using this month to spread the word about important steps women can take to stay healthy.
Here are just a few ideas:
- Encourage women to get their well-woman visit this year.
- Let women know that most insurance plans must cover well-woman visits and cervical cancer screening. This means that, depending on their insurance, women can get these services at no cost to them.
- Talk to parents about how important it is for their pre-teens to get the HPV vaccine. Both boys and girls need the vaccine.
How can I help spread the word?
We’ve made it easier for you to make a difference. This toolkit is full of ideas to help you take action today. For example:
- Add information about HPV and cervical cancer prevention to your newsletter.
- Tweet about Cervical Health Awareness Month.
- Add this Web badge to your website.
- Host a community event to raise awareness about cervical health.