This January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness of the second most common type of cancer for women worldwide. Thanks to vaccinations and appropriate screenings, Cervical Cancer is also one of the most preventable types of cancer.
Nearly 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed each year, but there’s hope too. The survival rate for cervical cancer is 92% when caught in its earliest stage, with death rates steadily declining each year thanks to early detection.
Screening early really is the key to kicking cancer to the curb. A papanicolaou test (aka PAP test) is a method of cervical screening used to detect any potential pre-cancerous cells. The quick procedure involves taking a sample of your cervical cells using a soft brush. Did you know that half of women with newly diagnosed cervical cancer had never had a PAP test? Another 10% hadn’t had a test in the past five years. That’s unfortunately a lot of missed chances for early detection.
It’s recommended that you start having PAP tests at the age of 21, with regular check-ups every three years. If any cell changes are found they’re closely monitored and treated if need be, to prevent cancer from developing. Early cancers or cell changes very rarely come with any symptoms, which is why it’s super important to get screened regularly by your doctor.
This is a pretty big one, but the HPV vaccination can literally save your life. The vaccination protects you against the high risk types of HPV that cause 90% of cervical cancers, as well as low risk types which could lead to genital warts. It’s recommended you start vaccinating when you’re 11 years old, although you can have the vaccination up to the age of 26. Heads up: it’s suggested that you vaccinate early, before you’re sexually active and haven’t yet been exposed to the infection. Although the vaccine protects you from most forms of HPV, you still won’t be 100% covered, which is why PAP tests are central to your cervical health.
This month is all about being attentive to our health, and taking responsibility for our bodies and our well-being. If you have any concerns, don’t hesitate to contact your GP. To get involved in #CervicalHealthAwarenessMonth, visit the National Cervical Cancer Coalition.
Artwork by Zoe Buckman