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Cervical Health Awareness

The United States Congress named January as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Each year, more than 13,200 women are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer, and more than 4,200 die from the disease. While those are sobering numbers, there is cause for optimism, as roughly 93% of all cases of the disease are preventable with proper care and screenings. Here’s some information about the disease and ways to prevent it in you or a loved one.

Cervical Health Facts

The cervix is a long, cylinder-shaped passage between the vagina and the uterus. It has two main parts, the cervix itself and the opening of the cervical canal known as the endocervix. The cervix is covered in squamous cells and the endocervix is covered in columnar cells. These different types of cells meet at a point between the vagina and the uterus known as the transformational zone. The transformational zone is the part of the cervix that is most susceptible to developing cancer.

Symptoms of Cervical Cancer Include:

– Pelvic pain unrelated to menstruation
– Abnormal bleeding, occurring between the menstrual cycle, after sexual intercourse or in postmenopausal women
– Increased urination and/or pain during urination
– Pelvic pain not related to your menstrual cycle
– Abnormal vaginal discharge

The Link Between HPV and Cervical Cancer

The sexually transmitted disease, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), is found in 99% of all types of cervical cancers. HPV is an extraordinarily common virus with more than 100 different types. Nearly one in four people are currently infected with the virus in the United States, and about 14 million people become infected with HPV each year, including adolescents. In most cases, HPV does not cause any medical problems because the immune system prevents the disease from developing further. Still, occasionally the virus persists and causes abnormal cervical cells to form, which can become cancerous. Preventing HPV, therefore, is a major step towards preventing cervical cancer.

Preventative Steps


HPV vaccines can help prevent infection from high-risk HPV types that can lead to cervical cancer and low-risk types that cause genital warts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all boys and girls get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12, as the vaccine produces a stronger immune response when taken during the preteen years. For this reason, up until age 14, only two doses of the vaccine are required.
An HPV vaccination prevents new HPV infections but does not treat existing infections or diseases. This is why the HPV vaccine works best when given before any exposure to HPV. You should get screened for cervical cancer regularly, even if you received an HPV vaccine.

Screening Tests

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 human papillomavirus (HPV) test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.
Cervical cancer is not something to be scared of; it is something to be vigilant against. Vaccination, STD testing, and regular screenings are all easy steps that can have huge benefits to your lifelong health. Cervical cancer is preventable and treatable, so get tested and screened today.
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