January is National Cervical Health Awareness Month
For this new year, take some time out to reflect on yourself. This is a time for you as a woman to reflect on what makes each of you special: the ability to bear children, and to insure that you do your part in maintaining your personal health.
One of the most important things you can do as a woman is to get a cervical cancer screening. This is better known as a Pap test or Pap smear. The test looks for changes to the cells of the cervix, the lower part of the womb that opens into the vagina or birth canal. Cervical cells can be normal, abnormal, or cancerous. A yearly Pap test can detect changes to the cervix cells early and allow for treatment that can save your life. It is suggested that women over the age of 21 or women under 21 that have been sexually active for 3 years get a yearly Pap test and pelvic exam. There is no age limit for the Pap test and even women that have gone through menopause should maintain the yearly exam schedule unless otherwise instructed by a physician.
About 10,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year and about 3,700 women die prematurely. Exposure to Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and in particular High-Risk types are directly related to cervical cancer. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted disease that can be passed on though simple skin to skin contact. In the United States about 75 percent of the population will be exposed to HPV in their lifetime. As many as 1 in 15 Americans have been exposed to the High-Risk type of the virus. There is a very strong relationship between High-Risk HPV contact and cervical cancer and the best way to protect yourself is to have a yearly Pap test. Women who have not had the Gardasil treatment and do not maintain a yearly Pap test significantly increase their risk for cervical cancer.
In 2006 a vaccine named Gardasil was approved for use in the United States. This vaccine prevents Human Papillomavirus types 6, 11, 16, & 18. Although the vaccine is recommended for young girls as early as age nine (9) it can be received until age 26 and prevents both cervical cancer and genital warts. These four (4) types of HPV are responsible for 70 percent (70%) of all cervical cancer and 90 percent (90%) of all genital warts.
"I don't have health insurance, how can I get a free or low-cost Pap test?"
There are programs offering free or low-cost Pap tests to women in need. To find a program near you: