Mind and Body: January marks Cervical Health Awareness Month

By Jennifer Burchett, RN, BSN

Clark County Health Department

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, and the Clark County Health Department wants you to know there is a lot you can do to prevent cervical cancer.

The cervix is the lower part of a woman’s uterus.

Each year, 11,000 women get cervical cancer in the U.S. and 33 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every day.

Without screening, a woman might not know she even has cervical cancer until it has spread.

Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection.

Women and men can be infected by HPV, and since a HPV infection is often without symptoms, it can be passed on without a person’s knowledge.

Some risk factors for developing cervical cancer are:

— weakened immune system;

— smoking cigarettes;

— history of precancerous; cervical lesions or a previous cervical cancer diagnosis;

— more than one sexual partner;

— sexual intercourse before age 18.

Two of the best ways to prevent cervical cancer are the HPV vaccine and regular Pap screening tests and follow-up care.

The HPV vaccine is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control for preteen boys and girls age 11 to 12 years, but can be given as early as age 9 or as late as age 26 for women.

The vaccine protects against the most common strains of the HPV virus.

The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for pre-cancers, which are cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.

The HPV test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.

The Pap test is recommended for women between the ages of 21 and 65, and can be done in a doctor’s office, clinic or the health department.

Women should start getting Pap tests regularly at age 21.

Your doctor or nurse practitioner may also recommend a HPV test, which can be done at the same time as your Pap test.

If your test results are normal, your chance of getting cervical cancer in the next few years is very low.

If your test results are abnormal, numerous treatment options are available to remove the abnormal cells and prevent cervical cancer from developing.

The Clark County Health Department participates in the Kentucky Women’s Cancer Screening Program to provide low-cost breast and cervical cancer screenings to women meeting the following requirements:

— 21 to 64 years of age;

— household income at or below 250 percent of the current annual federal poverty guideline;

— uninsured and has no third-party payer source ( no Medicare, no Medicaid and no private health insurance).

If a woman is screened and found to have pre-cancer or cancer of the breast or cervix, she may be eligible for treatment through the Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program.

The Clark County Health Department also provides the HPV vaccine for uninsured or under-insured children and children with Medicaid up through age 19.

Low-cost HPV vaccine may also be available for 19- to 21-year-old men and 19- to 26-year-old women.

For more information or to schedule an appointment for vaccines or a cancer screening, call 744-4482.