January is National Cervical Cancer Month and that means we should encourage ourselves, friends and family, to visit a gynecologist and take steps towards preventing the second most common cancer in women around the world. The American Cancer Society estimated in 2009 that over 11 thousand women would be diagnosed with the cancer and just over 4,000 would die from it.
The cancer is a result of recurring infections with certain types of HPV, a common sexually transmitted infection that 75 percent of adults will contract at some point in their lifetime. Genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STI. The virus infects individuals through the skin and mucous membranes – there are multiple strains of the HPV virus that can affect both men and women. Often individuals can become infected with HPV and are unaware that they’ve contracted the STI.The infections that do not go away without treatment can lead to the cancer.
Pap smears are encouraged for cervical cancer screening. Pap smears look for signs of cervical cancer namely, they detect abnormal cells in the cervix. Catching the cells early on allows them to be removed before they become cancerous. The HPV Vaccine is used to protect against certain types of cervical cancer. The vaccine is recommended for young girls and is approved up to age 26. Despite getting the vaccine, pap smear screenings are still encouraged in detecting certain types of cervical cancer that the vaccine does not prevent against.
In honor of January, campaigns are popping up to encourage and spread awareness of cervical cancer prevention. The Pearl of Wisdom Campaign, for example, launched a “Take the Pearl Pledge” initiative, which pushes women to schedule their annual gynecologic examination, wear a Pearl of Wisdom in support of the cause, and tell 5 friends to do the same.
In the midst of the new year, when we’re all focused on making resolutions, let’s begin with some of the basics: eating right, taking care of your body and mental health, and committing to preventative healthcare that protects our sexual well-being. Schedule your gyno appointment, ask your health care professional about the HPV vaccine and tell your daughters, sisters, and partners about how we can help prevent cervical cancer from being detrimental to our communities.