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Get Screened: January Is Cervical Health Awareness Month

woman speaking with her doctorEach year, an estimated 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and, of those, about one-third will die as a result of the cancer. But cervical cancer is also a highly preventable and treatable cancer, thanks to improved screening and vaccination.

The American Social Health Association (ASHA) and the National Cervical Cancer Coalition have named January Cervical Health Awareness Month to encourage women across the country to get screened for cervical cancer and receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine if they're eligible.

Today, detection tools and inoculations make cervical cancer a condition that is relatively easy to prevent and treat. In women who are not vaccinated and not screened regularly, either due to a lack of information or inadequate health care, cervical cancer can still be a serious, even fatal, illness.

"Science has put us in a remarkable position to protect women from cervical cancer, but technology is only half the battle," said ASHA president and CEO Lynn Barclay. "It's imperative we continue efforts that not only promote greater access to health care, but that we also inform women about cervical cancer and the marvelous means we now have to prevent this disease."

This year, the organizations are focusing on increasing the number of eligible women getting the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. HPV is common among women and is the main cause of cervical cancer. It's estimated that at least 75 percent of the reproductive-age population has been infected with one or more types of genital HPV. In the vast majority of cases, the virus causes no symptoms or health problems and goes away on its own when a healthy immune system clears the infection. But, in about 5 percent of women, a persistent infection occurs with high-risk strains of HPV, which causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer.

The HPV vaccine, which must be given in three doses, can protect women against four HPV types—the two most common high-risk strains (HPV 16 and 18) and the two most common low-risk types (HPV 6 and 11). The vaccine should be given before an infection occurs, ideally, before a girl becomes sexually active.

Barclay noted that it's important for parents and primary care physicians to promote the vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the inoculation for girls and women aged 11 to 26. Health care professionals are increasingly suggesting that teen boys and men get the vaccine as well.