January is Cervical Health Awareness Month
Each January is recognized as Cervical Health Awareness Month. Each year in the U.S. approximately 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. This doesn’t take into account the many thousands of women who have cervical abnormalities and abnormal Pap tests for reasons other than cancer, but who still undergo expensive and inconvenient follow-up exams and treatments. The true tragedy of the disease is that cervical cancer screening tests and vaccines exist that can prevent virtually every case.
Cervical cancer is caused by specific types of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a common infection that almost everyone who is sexually active will have at some point. There are vaccines that block the types of HPV most often found with cervical diseases, and screening tests (such as Pap tests and HPV tests) that can identify women most at risk. Cervical cancer can be prevented!
- Vaccinate early (females and males ages 9-26 are eligible)
- Pap test regularly (beginning at age 21)
- HPV test when recommended
The true tragedy of the disease is that cervical cancer screening tests and vaccines exist that can prevent virtually every case.
In both the U.S. and around the world, the disease disproportionately impacts poor women. ASHA President and CEO Lynn B. Barclay says that in addition to not having access to health care, women often lack awareness about cervical cancer. “Science has put us in a remarkable position to protect women from cervical cancer, but technology is only half the battle,” Barclay says. “It’s imperative we continue efforts that not only promote greater access to health care, but that we also inform women about cervical cancer and the marvelous means we now have to prevent this disease.”
2012 will see ASHA/NCCC focus strongly on increasing uptake of cervical cancer vaccines. Fewer than half of girls and young women who are eligible for these vaccines have completed the three-dose series, so increasing vaccine uptake is a priority for us. Barclay says a key to getting more “needles in arms” is to reach out to healthcare providers in addition to the general public: Especially for parents, having the family doctor or nurse endorse a vaccine is often crucial. With this in mind, we’re developing additional cervical cancer information and counseling tools designed specifically for front-line healthcare providers.
ASHA/NCCC address the challenges of cervical cancer prevention by offering numerous programs that include national advocacy, publications, and interactive services that provide education and support for patients, families, and health professionals.
For a list of free/low cost pap testing locations in the United States, see www.nccc-online.org/low_cost.php.
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