Cervical Health Awareness Month (January 2024)
Every January, we take time to shine a spotlight on cervical health. For the entire month, it's all about spreading the word about how to protect ourselves and our loved ones from cervical cancer. This woman's health issue doesn't need to be scary once you know the facts. Getting informed and taking basic precautions can help us live full, healthy lives.
Cervical cancer might not seem like a big threat when you're young and feeling strong. But the truth is, over 13,000 women in the U.S. find out they have it every year. The good news is it's preventable - and January is the month we get the word out.
We'll discuss vaccines that can stop cancer-causing infections, screening tests that find problems early, and how to make cervical health a priority. Knowledge is power, so let's learn all we can to safeguard ourselves and each other.
Cervical Health Awareness Month plays a crucial role in reducing the prevalence of cervical cancer by promoting education, prevention, and early detection initiatives.
What is the Cervix?
The cervix is the narrow, lower part of a woman's uterus connecting to the vagina. It is sometimes called the neck of the womb. The cervix allows menstrual blood to leave the uterus during periods. It also opens during childbirth to allow a baby to pass through.
The cervix is covered by squamous cells on its outer surface while the inner canal is lined with glandular cells. Both cervical cancer and precancerous changes usually arise from these cells when HPV (human papillomavirus) causes them to transform and grow abnormally over many years.
HPV and Cervical Cancer
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common cause of cervical cancer. HPV is easily transmitted during sexual activity and intimate skin-to-skin contact.
There are many strains of the HPV virus - some harmless, some cancer-causing. Two strains, HPV-16 and HPV-18, cause about 70% of all cervical cancers.
HPV is extremely common - most sexually active people are infected with it during their lifetime. A healthy immune system will usually suppress or clear HPV naturally within 1-2 years. When HPV persists long-term, it may eventually cause cellular changes leading to cancer.
Women who smoke or have HIV are at higher risk of developing cervical cancer if they have HPV. Cervical cancer usually develops slowly over 10-20 years, providing opportunities for detection and treatment of abnormal cell changes before they ever turn malignant.
In 2023, over 14,000 women in the United States will be newly diagnosed with cervical cancer - but it’s highly preventable through vaccination, screening, and lifestyle factors.
Preventing Cervical Cancer
There are several key ways women of all ages can protect their cervical health:
1. Get Vaccinated Against HPV
Safe and effective HPV vaccines protect against infection from high-risk cancer-causing HPV strains. The vaccines work best when given at age 11-12, well before exposure through sexual activity.
- The CDC recommends routine HPV vaccination for girls and boys starting at age 9 up to age 26.
- HPV vaccination prevents over 90% of cancers caused by HPV strains 16 and 18.
- For maximal protection, complete the multi-dose series as recommended.
- Have Regular Cervical Cancer Screening
Routine screening allows detection and removal of abnormal cells or precancerous changes. Screening tests include:
- The primary test: The Pap test examines cervical cells for abnormal changes.
- Secondary test: HPV testing looks for current infection with cancer-causing HPV types.
Women age 21-65 should have a Pap test every 3 years. Those over age 30 may qualify for cotesting - having a Pap test and HPV test together every 5 years.
- Screening guidelines differ slightly depending on age and past results. Discuss an optimal screening plan with your healthcare provider.
- Screening is not helpful before age 21 or over age 65 in most cases.
- Those whose cervix was removed don’t need screening.
- Quit Smoking
Smoking raises cervical cancer risk, especially in those with HPV infection. Quitting smoking helps the immune system clear persistent HPV infections.
Women who smoke are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer as non-smokers. Tobacco use also reduces the effectiveness of treatment if cancer does occur.
Smoking cessation resources exist to help - ask your healthcare professional for the best options. Adopting a smoke-free lifestyle brings significant and rapid health advantages at any age.
- Use Condoms
Using condoms reduces exposure to cancer-causing HPV strains. While not 100% protective, condoms provide a high degree of risk reduction when used correctly and consistently.
- Those having intimate contact with new partners should use condoms during sexual activity as a safeguard.
- Condoms provide protection against other sexually transmitted infections as well.
- When used along with vaccination, condoms offer layered defense against cervical cancer risks.
- Get Schedule Reminders
Sign up for free screening reminders from text campaigns or smartphone apps. Automated prompts give notices when it’s time to schedule your next Pap test or other cervical screening.
- Text message programs or health apps help women follow cervical screening guidelines correctly.
- Both CDC and nonprofit groups offer text or email reminders to get screened.
- Reminders prevent delays getting tested, keeping cervical health vigilance on track.
Early Detection and Treatment Saves Lives
When detected early, cervical cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable cancers. Discuss any abnormal Pap or HPV test results promptly with your provider. With proper follow up and precancer treatment as recommended, progression to invasive cancer is nearly always preventable.
If diagnosed early while still confined to the cervix, the 5-year relative cervical cancer survival rate is over 90%. The outlook remains positive even in later regional stage disease. Join the fight to make cervical cancer history through prevention, early detection, and prompt treatment when needed.
Don't neglect these symptoms also regular check-ups and early detection through screening significantly contribute to the successful prevention and treatment of cervical cancer.
Who Should Have Cervical Screening?
These general screening guidelines apply to those with average cervical cancer risk. Specific schedules may vary - follow your provider’s recommendations.
Women Ages 21-29
- Have a Pap test every 3 years
- HPV testing is not used in this age group
Women Ages 30-65
- Can have a Pap test alone every 3 years
- Qualify for cotesting: Get a Pap test plus an HPV test every 5 years
- Cotesting offers added safety and may permit longer intervals
Women Over Age 65
- No screening needed after age 65 if past tests were normal
- Women with a history of abnormal results may need continued screening Women Who Had Total Hysterectomy
- Stop screening if both uterus and cervix removed and no history of abnormal cells or cervical cancer prior to surgery
Cervical Health Promotion in Your Community
Here are ways to advance cervical wellness locally in January:
School/College Campus Ideas
- Give HPV vaccine talks explaining why it's so vital for long-term health
- Table with flyers on Pap testing guidelines/resources
- Health center displays on cervical cancer risks and prevention
- Condom distribution drives emphasizing why protection matters
Community Center Options
- Offer seminars on women's cancer awareness/prevention
- Provide group smoking cessation classes
- Sponsor mother-daughter events on adolescent vaccination
- Send email flyers on free screening reminder sign-ups
- Feature counseling on HPV risks at OB-GYN/family planning visits
- Text reminders to patients about scheduling overdue Pap tests
- Distribute posters on cervical health essentials to waiting rooms
- Advertise free community seminars on women's cancer prevention
Business Engagement Ideas
- Encourage HPV vaccination through workplace wellness programs
- Email flyers to staff on cervical screening guidelines
- Sponsor mobile van offering low-cost Pap tests
- Support employee smoking cessation initiatives
Legislative Engagement Tips
- Advocate to improve funding for women's health screening programs
- Urge representatives to support cervical cancer/HPV education
- Promote policies expanding vaccine access/affordability
Get involved locally to empower women’s cervical wellness where you live. Small actions collectively make a large impact.
Raising global awareness of cervical cancer is a multifaceted approach that involves education, advocacy, and community engagement to improve early detection, and ultimately save lives.
Share Facts to Foster Cervical Health
As a trusted friend, partner, family member, clinician or community leader, you can use your influence to promote cervical wellbeing.
Here are important facts to discuss:
- Cervical cancer was once a top women’s cancer killer - now there’s a pathway to make it highly preventable
- HPV vaccination is crucial to protect the next generation from cervical disease
- embarrassments about sexuality or cancer fears should not deter lifesaving Pap/HPV testing
- cervical screening guidelines evolve based on latest medical evidence - stay updated
- abnormal results happen commonly - address needed follow up to stay healthy
- cervical cell changes and early cancer don’t always cause symptoms - that’s why routine screening matters
- smoking and sexual health risks affect cervical/HPV cancer susceptibility at any age
- community action, awareness and political engagement fuel progress preventing cervical malignancies
Share quality information and help break down barriers to optimal prevention. Our united voices foster healthier futures worldwide.
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 CDC. “Cancers Caused by HPV .” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 Mar. 2023, www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/cancer.html.
 “Cervical Cancer Screening Doubles When Under-Screened Women Are Mailed Testing Kits - UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.” UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, 12 May 2023,
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 What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Cervical Cancer? 2024,
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 Ferrall, Louise et al. “Cervical Cancer Immunotherapy: Facts and Hopes.” Clinical cancer research : an official journal of the American Association for Cancer Research vol. 27,18 (2021): 4953-4973. doi:10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-20-2833