January is Cervical Health Awareness Month
January is designated by the United States Congress as Cervical Health Awareness Month. More than 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year.
Cervical cancer is the only cancer that is preventable and has a vaccine. Cervical cancer is also very treatable because it is slow growing and there is an easy detection method—the Papanicolaou test, or Pap smear.
Though usually successful in getting rid of the cancer, treatment of cervical cancer can cause problems with getting or staying pregnant. Also, some cancers are more aggressive and harder to treat. Prevention and good cervical health practices are the best weapons against cervical cancer.
What is Cervical Health?
The cervix is located in the lower or bottom part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. The shape resembles a donut. The cervix produces mucus – a fluid released into the vagina. Cervical mucus has many functions, such as keeping the vagina lubricated (wet), preventing infection, and helping sperm reach the egg so you can get pregnant.
Cervical health means taking an active role in protecting your body’s reproductive health. There are many ways to protect the health of your cervix and prevent or reduce your risk of cervical cancer. The two best medical ways are:
- HPV vaccination
- Regular Pap smears/Pap tests
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer occurs in the cells of your cervix. The cause is very often due to infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection (STI), though there are other causes and unknown causes.
There are many different types, or strains, of HPV, and each can cause different symptoms or no symptoms at all. Both men and women can be infected with HPV.
The virus can survive undetected in the body for years. During this time, HPV can begin to cause healthy cervical cells to become cancer cells.
Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Cervical Cancer
Get a routine Pap test
- You should start getting a Pap test at age 21 or when you start having sex – whichever happens first.
- The Pap test can detect precancerous conditions in your cervix. If you have precancerous cells, your doctor can monitor or treat them to prevent cervical cancer.
- Your healthcare provider will recommend how often you should receive a Pap test, which varies by individual. Once per year to once every three years are the most common recommendations depending on age, sexual activity, and whether you have had a test result that was abnormal.
- Abnormal test results may require more frequent Pap tests.
Get an HPV vaccination.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends routine vaccination at age 11 or 12 years for both boys and girls. Vaccination can be started at age 9 if needed or preferred by the parent.
- Vaccination is also recommended for everyone through age 26 years if you have not already been vaccinated.
- Receiving the HPV vaccine prevents infection from the virus strains that cause cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers.
- Ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine if you have not been vaccinated.
Get tested for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Other STIs can increase your chance of developing cervical cancer if you become infected with HPV.
- For example, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can lower your body’s immune system response and make it hard to fight an HPV infection.
- Other STIs can make it easier for you to become infected by HPV.
- According to the American Cancer Society, women who smoke are twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer.
- Tobacco substances have been found in the cervical mucus of women who smoke. Research indicates that these substances may damage the DNA of cervix cells and contribute to the development of cervical cancer.
- Smoking weakens your immune system, making it harder for your body to fight an HPV infection.
Practice safe sex.
- Use a condom every time you have sex.
- Limiting the number of sexual partners you have will also reduce your risk.
- Do not have sex at an early age. Women who start having sex while very young have a higher risk of cervical cancer.
You should always feel comfortable talking with your healthcare provider. Talk with them about scheduling your Pap test, other STI testing, HPV infection and how to practice safe sex. If you have a child who is sexually active or the recommended age for HPV vaccination, you should talk with their pediatrician about getting tested, vaccinated and getting a referral to the appropriate healthcare provider that can help them with birth control, STI testing and Pap tests, if needed. Jai Medical Systems has the support and tools you need to stay healthy. Call our Customer Service Representatives at 1-888-JAI-1999 to learn more.