January is Cervical Health Awareness Month

Did you know that January is National Cervical Health Awareness month? According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) and its parent organization, ASHA (American Sexual Health Association), approximately 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the U.S. alone. Of those, more than 4,000 die – that’s over 30%. Cervical cancer results from contracting HPV or Human Papillomavirus (referring to a group of 150 related viruses which nearly all of us contract at some point).  Normally, HPV goes away on its own and does not present a health risk, but for some it does not. The good news is that cervical cancer is highly preventable because it develops slowly, and abnormal cells can be detected through a Pap test while they are still precancerous.

While the majority of cervical cancers are found in women who live in poverty and lack access to healthcare (which is why this is a much greater problem globally), that is only part of the equation. The fact is many women and the providers who treat them are often reluctant to talk about sexual health, and that includes cervical cancer prevention. Many women rush through these discussions or avoid them altogether.

Here’s how you can arm yourself against cervical cancer:

  1. Know what questions to ask. Start with ASHA’s guide Ten Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Provider about Sexual Health.
  2. Make sure your Pap testing is current.
  3. Know other options you have and discuss them with your provider. For example, when combined with a Pap test, the HPV test can help identify women at risk for developing cervical cancer. Also, there is a three-dose HPV vaccine which provides women protection against two common high-risk and two common low-risk HPV strains.

Want to know more? Check out the Healthy Women article here.

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