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January is known as an unofficial reset month, encouraging millions to create or reestablish a healthier lifestyle. Resolutions abound as more people join gyms, add more fruits and vegetables to their grocery orders, and schedule wellness appointments for the year.

The start of the new year also marks Cervical Health Awareness Month—an especially important time to remember that detecting Human Papillomavirus (HPV) disease, the leading cause of cervical cancer, can save lives.

According to The American Cancer Society (ACS), estimates for cervical cancer in the United States in 2023 were:

– Approximately 13,960 new cases of invasive cervical cancer diagnoses and

– About 4,310 women died from cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women. According to a 2022 study from the International Journal of Gynecological Cancer, late-stage cervical cancer has increased annually over the last 18 years.

Encouragingly, the cervical cancer death rate dropped significantly with the increased screenings and availability of the HPV vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the HPV vaccine for children at age 11. The American Congress of Obstetricians

and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends Pap tests every three years for women aged 21 to 29. HPV testing alone can be considered for women who are 25 to 29, but Pap tests are preferred. Women who are 30 to 65 can have a Pap test and an HPV test every five years.

“It’s important to stick to routine screenings because the early stages of cervical cancer often present no symptoms,” explained Brittney Herald, APRN “For patients who do experience symptoms, cervical cancer can manifest as pelvic pain, painful intercourse, irregular menstruation, fatigue, nausea or weight loss.”

And while the surest way to help prevent the disease is with routine screenings, there are a few other ways to prevent pre-cancers and cancers:

1. Get the HPV vaccine. These vaccines help protect against the HPV strains most linked to cancer of the cervix. The ACS does not recommend HPV vaccination for those older than 26 years.

2. Understand how easily HPV exposure can occur. HPV passes during skin-to-skin contact—meaning sex doesn’t have to occur for the infection to spread. It is even possible for a genital infection to spread through hand-to-genital contact.

3. Use a condom to provide some protection against HPV. It’s important to note that condoms don’t completely prevent infection. One reason that condoms cannot protect completely is that they don’t cover every possible HPV-infected area of the body, such as the skin of the genital or anal area.

4. Don’t smoke. Smoking is linked to increasing the risk of cervical pre-cancer and cancer.

Cervical cancer is a disease that can be prevented when detected early. Kentucky River Medical Center can help. Call us at 606-666-6600 today to schedule a screening.