While it seems like every month has a cause attached to it, January's awareness theme is rather important to women's health: Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Cervical cancer prevention is simple, and deserves as much recognition as breast cancer or any other cancer for that matter.
What is the cervix?
"The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus. The cervix connects the vagina (birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus. The uterus (or womb) is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant." -- CDC.gov
What causes cervical cancer?
"What causes cervical cancer isn't clear. However, it's certain that the sexually transmitted infection called human papillomavirus (HPV) plays a role. Evidence of HPV is found in nearly all cervical cancers. However, HPV is a very common virus and most women with HPV never develop cervical cancer. This means other risk factors, such as your genetic makeup, your environment or your lifestyle choices, also determine whether you'll develop cervical cancer." -- mayoclinic.com
The good thing about cervical cancer: it's extremely preventable. A routine Pap test checks for cell changes on the cervix. Also: young people (under 26) now have access to HPV vaccines, which protect both males and females against some strains of HPV.
Note: males can carry HPV, too, and give their partners the virus. While males obviously can't have cancer of the cervix, they can be at risk for other types of cancers associated with HPV.
So, ladies: if you haven't had a Pap test in a while, go get one. Sure, no one likes "the stirrups", but an awkward screening is preferable to a dangerous cancer that can be prevented.
Not sure where to get a screening?
If you have a regular doctor, ask. If your primary provider doesn't perform Pap tests, he or she can give you a recommendation, directing you to a gynecologist in your city.
Don't have health insurance?
WomensHealth.gov has this nifty page dedicated to explaining cervical cancer. Toward the end of the list, there's a link that will direct you to where you can get a free or low-cost Pap test. Also: additional info. from the CDC.
Interesting cervical cancer facts:
-- It's the third most common cancer affecting women globally:
"Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer globally in women, and more than 85% of cases are in developing countries, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Women who are HIV-positive face a risk of developing cervical cancer four to five times greater than those who are HIV-negative. That's because their suppressed immune systems aren't as able to fight off human papillomavirus, the main cause of cervical cancer." -- online.wsj.com
-- In the developing world, doctors can use table vinegar to check for cervical cancer. Bizarre, right?
"In a method developed by experts at Johns Hopkins medical school and recently endorsed by the World Health Organization, clinic nurses around the world are being trained to use a solution of table vinegar — 5% acetic acid — to detect cancer. By brushing it directly onto the cervix, nurses can see within three to five minutes whether any precancerous lesions exist, because the vinegar turns them white. The lesions can then be frozen off during the same visit using a metal rod cooled by a tank of carbon dioxide." -- healthland.time.com
Need more information?
Check out the following pages for more information about cervical cancer, cervical cancer screenings, and symptoms of cervical cancer:
Cervical cancer health guide from the New York Times
Symptoms of cervical cancer from the Mayo Clinic and the CDC
image: Tetra Pak