cervical_health_awareness_month_ribbonMore than 12,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and more than 4,000 of those women will die.  Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer effecting women worldwide, but it is also one of the most preventable.  Because most abnormal cell changes occur in the cervix years before cervical cancer develops, early detection and treatment is key.

What can you do to lower your risk?

– Get Regular Pap Smears

Ah, yes…everyone’s favorite test, the Pap smear, is recommended for ALL WOMEN between the ages of 21 and 65.  Whether you’re sexually active or not, you should make getting a Pap test a regular thing.  Pap smears find changes in the cells of the cervix that are not normal.

Local health departments and women’s clinics offer free and low-cost Pap smears.  To find a local clinic here in Charlotte, call the North Carolina Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program at 1 (800) 4-CANCER.  The Charlotte Planned Parenthood also offers low cost Pap smears, as well as a myriad of other services geared towards women’s health.

– Get Tested for HPV

Human papillomavirus (more commonly known as HPV), is the leading cause of abnormal cell changes in a woman’s cervix.  There are about 40 types of HPV that can infect both men and women, in the genitals, sex organs, throat and/or mouth.  HPV is so common that most people will have had it at least once in their lifetime; but because it usually causes no symptoms, you may never even know you (or your partner) have it.  Most of the time your body is able to fight off HPV without any medical intervention, but when it stays in a woman’s cervix for many years, it can lead to cervical cancer.

HPV tests are advised for women over the age of 30, and can be done at the same time as your routine Pap test.

– Get the HPV Vaccine

Two HPV vaccines are licensed by the FDA and recommended by the CDC: Cervarix and Gardasil.  The CDC recommends that females between 11 and 26 should receive the vaccine (a three-part series) in order to reduce their likelihood of contracting certain major types of HPV, including the types that cause most cervical cancers, as well as other HPV-associated cancers.

Smoking, being overweight or obese, and a family history of cervical cancer also increase your risks.  Early detection is key, so be sure to schedule your yearly Pap if you haven’t already!