January is Cervical Health Awareness Month

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month

Cervical cancer takes greater toll globally as the vast majority of cervical cancers occur in low-income countries. Cervical cancer is most often found in women living in poverty and who lack access to health care.  

Cervical cancer develops slowly, starting as a precancerous condition known as dysplasia. These abnormal cells are easily detected through a Pap test and can be treated effectively. There is also an HPV test that, when combined with a Pap test in women over age 30, can help identify women at risk for developing cervical cancer.  

If left undetected, dysplasia can turn into cervical cancer, which can potentially spread to the bladder, intestines, lungs and liver. Moreover, women may not suspect cervical cancer until it has become advanced or metastasizes, a fact which underscores the importance of regular Pap tests.   

Lack of comfort with these topics even results in women avoiding gynecologic care due to a sense of shame. Symptoms of cervical cancer, which may not show up until the cancer is advanced, include abnormal vaginal bleeding, unusual discharge, periods that last longer or have a heavier flow than usual and bleeding after menopause.  

The HPV vaccine, which must be given in three doses, can protect women against four HPV types—the two most common high-risk strains (HPV 16 and 18) and the two most common low-risk types (HPV 6 and 11).