January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. The month-long
observance is sponsored by the National Cervical Cancer
Coalition (NCCC) as a way to raise awareness of issues related
to cervical cancer, including HPV, as well as emphasize the
importance of early detection. In addition to raising awareness of
the importance of cervical health, it is also important to
reinforce how critical it is for women to put themselves first long
enough to ensure they are healthy.
In the midst of making sure kids, husbands, and often their own
parents have annual physicals or go to the doctor when they are
many women fail to make their own health a priority. When a
woman doesn't have regular checkups, something like HPV can be left
to wreak havoc on her health.
HPV is Extremely Common
According to the NCCC, approximately 74 percent of
American women and men come into contact with the HPV virus during
their life. Flipped around, this statistic means that
only 1 out of every 4 Americans has NOT been exposed to
HPV. What this suggests is that although people aren't
shouting their diagnosis from the rooftops, if you have it, you're
Although most cases of HPV (80 to 90 percent) are naturally
eliminated and never lead to cervical cancer, 12,000 women will be
diagnosed with cervical cancer this year. It is important to
protect yourself and your health by having regular checkups
(sometimes called well-woman visits) with your gynecologist or
primary care provider--especially if you are between the ages of 35
and 55; one-half of all women diagnosed with HPV are diagnosed at
The good news is that cervical cancer can be prevented. Regular
screening (pap tests/pap smear) can help detect abnormal cells
before they turn into cancer. And of course, the most
effective way to prevent cervical cancer is to prevent HPV. Talk to
your doctor about the importance of regular wellness visits and
What Can You Do?
As health communicators, we also have work to do. The well-woman
visit is not at the top of any woman's list of favorite things, but
it is important that we continue to stress how valuable this visit
is. In addition, we can help spread the word that the
Affordable Care Act covers the cost of well-woman visits and
preventative care, including cervical cancer screenings.
Finally, we can talk to parents about whether the HPV vaccine is
the right choice for their child. These are just a few ways that we
can make a difference and help spread the word about the need for
more awareness and education about cervical health.
For more information about HPV, the American Sexual Health
Association has created a helpful list of
important facts about HPV.