January Is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month
Every January, we celebrate a new year and look ahead at what’s to come. We also sometimes make resolutions for things we’d like to change or be better about—like eating healthier, working out more, or getting more sleep. January is also a time to focus on reproductive health since it is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about cervical cancer and why Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is so important.
What Is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is a disease that causes cancer cells to emerge in the cervix—which is the part of the body that connects the vagina to the uterus. The most common cause of cervical cancer is human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. HPV is one of the most common sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) and nearly all individuals who are sexually active will be infected at some point during their lives. The most likely time for infection is shortly after becoming sexually active.
There are many different forms of HPV—many of which do not cause problems and clear up on their own—but 13 of them are known to cause cervical cancer. These types of HPV are also known as high-risk types.
HPV infections are most concerning for women since they can lead to cervical cancer. For women with healthy immune systems, it generally takes 15-20 years for cervical cancer to develop. For women with weakened immune systems, it can take between 5-10 years. There are nearly 300,000 women living with cervical cancer in the United States, and 0.6% of all women will develop cervical cancer at some point during their lifetime.
While HPV infections are common and widespread, there are steps you can take to limit your risk of developing cervical cancer. Many of these steps are focused on during the month of January since it is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
Why Is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month Important?
Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is important for several main reasons, including:
January is used as a time to highlight cervical cancer and educate women about the disease. This includes knowing how cervical cancer develops, the risk factors, and the signs and symptoms.
As stated above, cervical cancer almost always arises due to HPV infections. That means that being sexually active increases your risk of contracting HPV and, therefore, also increases your risk of developing cervical cancer. Some things you can do to limit your risk include:
- Using a condom during sex (although this won’t completely prevent all HPV since it can infect areas not covered by condoms)
- Engaging in sexual activity with only one other person
- Receiving an HPV vaccination
- Getting a yearly Pap Smear examination There are generally no symptoms or signs for precancer, but there are for early-stage cervical cancer. In the event that you contract HPV and develop cervical cancer, here are some of the main warning signs and symptoms:
- Light bleeding or blood spots between or following your period
- You have heavier or longer menstrual bleeding than normal
- Bleeding after you have intercourse, receive a pelvic examination, or after douching
- You experience pain during sex
- You have increased vaginal discharge
- Persistent pelvic and/or back pain with no other explanation
- You experience bleeding after menopause
Another reason why Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is so important is to serve as a reminder for women to get screened for cervical cancer. Screenings for cervical cancer are called Pap Smears—or Pap Tests—and involve placing a speculum inside the vagina in order to collect cells from the cervix. If abnormal cells are found on a Pap Smear, it may be recommended to follow up with a colposcopy.
A colposcopy is a procedure used by healthcare providers to closely examine your cervix, vulva, and vagina for signs of disease. If there’s something that doesn’t look normal, your healthcare provider will do a biopsy. This involves taking a sample of tissue and sending it to a lab for testing. There are two different biopsies used—one takes tissue from outside your cervix and the other takes tissue from the opening of your cervix.
Cervical cancer screenings start at the age of 21. These screenings, examinations, and procedures are incredibly useful in catching the early stages of cervical cancer. That’s why it’s so important to schedule yearly examinations to check for HPV infections or cervical cancer. If you’ve forgotten to do this, Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is a great time to schedule an appointment!
Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is also important because it helps to get more people vaccinated against HPV—the leading cause of cervical cancer. Since there are so many types of HPV, it’s impossible for one vaccination to prevent them all. However, there are two types of HPV (16 and 18) that cause nearly 70% of cervical cancers. Getting vaccinated will help protect you against these most dangerous types. In fact, a research study revealed that seven types of HPV—the ones targeted by the HPV vaccine Gardasil 9—accounted for over 90% of advanced cervical precancers. This means that the Gardasil 9 vaccine could help to prevent 9 out of 10 cases of cervical cancer. If you aren’t currently vaccinated against HPV, consider scheduling an appointment this Cervical Cancer Awareness Month to get protected!
Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is a great time to educate yourself further on the risks of cervical cancer and HPV. It’s also a perfect time to schedule an examination to get checked or a vaccination to get protected. At MyAlly Health, we offer annual examinations like Pap Smears to test for HPV and Gardasil vaccinations to protect you from HPV infections.
These may be low-cost or even free for you, so talk to us today about getting protected against cervical cancer. You can even get a $25 gift card for completing a cervical cancer screening, a pelvic examination, or for receiving the Gardasil vaccine!
MyAlly Health offers confidential reproductive health services to women and men in the Grand Forks, North Dakota area, regardless of income or age. This includes preventive care, like getting tested for STIs; breast examinations, and pelvic examinations; determining the best birth control for you; and even getting vaccinated against the flu. The clinical services we provide are all performed by Nurse Practitioners and Resident Physicians.
In order to empower and engage individuals in their well-being and reproductive health, MyAlly Health offers education, counseling, advocacy, and healthcare services. Find out more about what we do, help make a difference by donating to our cause, or schedule an appointment with us today!
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