Cervical Health Awareness Month is observed in January. Cervical cancer used to be a leading cause of death for women in the United States, but proper screenings and vaccinations helped reduce the deaths. Cervical cancer is preventable when the proper steps are taken, yet almost 14,000 American women are still diagnosed, and about 4,000 die each year from this horrific disease. 

Cervical cancer starts in the cells of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. A majority of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV or human papillomavirus. There are usually no symptoms in the early stages of this cancer, but in more advanced stages, symptoms include vaginal bleeding, watery or bloody vaginal discharge, and pelvic pain. To prevent this disease, you should have the HPV vaccine, have regular Pap smears, practice safe sex, and avoid smoking. 

The first HPV vaccination should be given to children (boys and girls) between the ages of 11-12 years but can be given as early as age 9, with another dose given 6-12 months later. Three doses are recommended if the vaccine is started between the ages of 15 and 26. The vaccine prevents new HPV infections but does not treat existing HPV infections.

It is recommended that women have their first Pap smear at age 21 and have them every three years until age 65. Women can get Pap smears every five years after age 30 if it is combined with HPV testing. More frequent Pap smears are recommended for those that have abnormal results, are HIV positive, are immunocompromised, or have a history of smoking.  

The best ways to observe this month are to take the proper precautions for yourself and/or your children and educate others on how preventable cervical cancer is. At Rutherford’s Best Doctors, we can help connect you to the right medical professional in Rutherford County. Visit rutherfordsbestdoctors.com to browse our directory.