Almost 13,000 women every year are diagnosed with cervical cancer, even though it is one of the most preventable types of cancer in the world. It used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women, but in the last 40 years better preventative testing measures have decreased that number significantly. The National Cervical Cancer Coalition sponsors Cervical Health Awareness Month in January to help raise awareness about this disease, and to educate women about what steps they can take to prevent it.

The main cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted virus. It is extremely common in the United States, but only a few types of the virus lead to cervical cancer. There are two types of screening tests that you should take on a regular basis to prevent cervical cancer: pap tests and HPV tests. The pap test (or pap smear) will test for abnormalities on the cervix that may indicate cervical cancer. It’s important to schedule regular pap tests if you are between the ages of 21 and 65. If your results are normal, you only need to get a pap smear once every three years.

An HPV test looks for the virus that can cause cervical cancer. Getting an HPV vaccine can help protect against cervical cancer, and these vaccines can be given to girls between 9 and 26 years of age. However, even when vaccinated against HPV, it is important that women have regular pap tests to screen for cervical cancer. Focus on your preventative health this January and take the steps to prevent cervical cancer that are right for you!

Some considerations for cervical health:

  • Lifecycle Changes: Cervical cells are most vulnerable to abnormal cell growth at puberty, during a first pregnancy and a few weeks after the birth of a child.
  • Immune System: A healthy immune system can help clear HPV naturally from our bodies. Get enough rest and eat well.
  • Smoking: Women who smoke, especially women who also have HPV, are much more likely than non-smokers to develop abnormal changes or cancerous changes in the cervix.
  • Stress: Some women get abnormal Pap results after major negative life events.

Sources: National Cervical Cancer Coalition, National Women’s Health Resource Center, University of Washington, CDC, American Cancer Society, Canadian Women’s Health Network. The Health Tip of the Week is for educational purposes only. For additional information, consult your physician. Please feel free to copy and distribute this health resource.