As the new year begins, many will make resolutions to improve or protect their health. While new exercise routines or healthier diets occupy people’s minds, there is another step to take in the new year: schedule a cervical cancer screening and possibly vaccination with their health care provider.

The U.S. Congress designated January as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month to encourage conversation and action about cervical cancer, which the American Cancer Society estimates will be diagnosed in about 14,000 American women each year. Annually, nearly  4,300 women will die due to the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hispanic women have the highest rates of new cervical cancer diagnoses. American Indian/Alaska Native women have the next highest rate of new diagnoses, followed by African American women and then Caucasians. But while Hispanic women see the highest rates of cervical cancer,  African American women suffer the highest rate of deaths due to the disease. 

The leading cause of nearly all cases of cervical cancer is the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease that is spread through vaginal, anal or oral intercourse and experienced by most people over their lifetime. Currently, three approved vaccines prevent infection with specific subtypes of HPV, including two high-risk HPVs that cause some 70 percent of cervical cancers. Generally, HPV vaccines  are recommended for patients ages 11-26, but a healthcare provider can help decide the best timing. 

“What I want people to know is that we have ways to greatly decrease their risk of cervical cancer with the HPV vaccines, as well as with screening tests,” said Kara James, a nurse practitioner with Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. “January is a great reminder that there are resources and support to protect people from this disease and to take the first step to schedule an appointment with a health care provider.”

Planned Parenthood Los Angeles offers physical and mental healthcare for both men and women, including cervical cancer screenings and vaccines. Last year, Planned Parenthood Los Angeles provided 7,286 cervical cancer screenings in Los Angeles County. In addition to clinical care, Planned Parenthood provides education and resources to help women prevent cervical cancer or detect it early when it is more treatable.

When women turn 21, scheduling screening tests such as the Pap smear is another critical step for early detection. During this procedure, a health care provider takes a swab of the patient’s cervix to look for abnormal cells, which may indicate that a patient has or could develop cervical cancer.

“We know that having a Pap smear can be intimidating. But our health care providers are there to make our patients feel comfortable and cared for while ensuring that we are doing all we can to protect their health,” said James. “Getting screened for cervical cancer and vaccinated for HPV are two of the best actions a person can take to protect their health, and we aim to answer all questions and support our patients at every step.”

To make an appointment for a cervical cancer screening exam or vaccination near you, please visit  https://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-center

Submitted by Planned Parenthood