January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Nearly 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year1, but the disease is virtually always preventable with vaccination and appropriate screening (Pap and HPV tests). When cervical cancer is found early, it is highly treatable and associated with long survival and good quality of life.
What is cervical cancer?
Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer, and can spread to other areas of the body. Cervical cancer starts in the lining of the cervix—the lower part of the uterus. With cervical cancer, the normal cells gradually develop pre-cancerous cells that can turn into cancer, which can be detected by the Pap test and treated to prevent cancer from developing.
Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer
Women with early cervical cancer and pre-cancer usually have no symptoms. Symptoms often begin when the cancer grows, and the most common are abnormal vaginal bleeding, unusual discharge and pain during sex. These symptoms can also be caused by conditions other than cervical cancer, but you should still see a health care professional right away. Ignoring symptoms may allow the cancer to grow to a more advanced stage and lower your chance for effective treatment.
Even better, do not wait for symptoms to appear. Have regular Pap tests and pelvic exams.
In honor of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, we want to help women prevent cervical cancer through vaccines and screenings.
The HPV vaccine helps protect against cancers caused by a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which can cause many cancers—cervical cancer among them. Parents should make sure pre-teens get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12.
Pap tests can often catch precancerous cells and spot cervical cancer early, when treatment is more effective. Pap tests greatly lower the number of new cervical cancers diagnosed and the number of deaths each year. Women should start getting regular Pap tests at age 21.
So in honor of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, schedule your annual well-woman or well-child visit—covered at 100% for Compass Rose Health Plan members when using a network provider—and speak with your doctor about your personal risks and recommendations.