NEWSWEEK – As millions of Americans follow through on their New Year’s resolutions to exercise more and eat better, here’s another one: Take cervical health seriously.
January marks Cervical Health Awareness Month, an annual reminder that cervical cancer is a very real threat to women around the country.
Each year in the U.S., nearly 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed and about 4,000 women die from it. While that number isn’t in the millions or tens of millions, late-stage cervical cancer is on the rise, with far too many people missing their screening appointments for one reason or another.
Cervical cancer is preventable and treatable, if detected early. Cervical cancer develops in a woman’s cervix, which is the entrance to the uterus from the vagina.
Almost all cervical cancer cases (99 percent) are linked to infection with high-risk human papillomaviruses (HPV), an extremely common virus transmitted through sexual contact.
In fact, HPV is the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract. Most sexually active women (and men) will be infected at some point in their lives, and some may be repeatedly infected.
Scary, right? Not necessarily. Pap smears every three years, annual check-ups, and other screenings allow women to detect cervical cancer early. And, the earlier it is detected, the more treatable cervical cancer becomes. In many ways, the “well-woman exam” is the most important health visit of the year for female patients.
There’s no reason to be afraid. Cervical cancer doesn’t need to be a deadly disease. Early stages typically don’t involve symptoms and can be difficult to detect, but the routine pap smear is key, identifying any abnormal cells, and making treatment possible.
The HPV vaccine—available since 2006—is also crucial for prevention.
Since the vaccine’s introduction, rates of cervical cancer incidence have dropped significantly among vaccinated women …