January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and many health and human service organizations are trumpeting a familiar, yet often unheralded refrain: get screened, get vaccinated.
Cervical cancer statistics are staggering, especially when you consider the prevalence and preventability of the largest cause of cervical cancer, Human papillomavirus (HPV).
Cervical Cancer Quick Facts
- HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer, responsible for more than 90% of cases in the US
- HPV will affect nearly 70% of sexually active women, and some will have it more than once
- Cervical cancer can take 10-15 years to progress to advanced disease
- Average age at diagnosis is 50 years old
- In 2022, there were roughly 14,000 new cases in the US alone
- Approximately 4000 women died from cervical cancer in the US in 2022
- Globally, only 1 in 10 girls are fully vaccinated against HPV
- Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women, but it is the leading cause of cancer deaths
Luckily, cervical cancer takes a long time to progress. Therefore, early screening and intervention are essential. The good news is early-stage cervical cancer tends to be very treatable.
Before cancerous cells develop, the cervix undergoes cellular changes in a condition called precancer or dysplasia. Dysplasia can often be cured in a single office visit by simply removing the precancerous cells. Thanks to the wide accessibility of Pap smears, many of the women diagnosed with cervical cancer will be cured. That said, Pap smears only work if you get them. Planned parenthood recommends getting a Pap smear (also called a Pap test) every 3 years from age 21 years on.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that “more than 15 years of monitoring and research have accumulated reassuring evidence that human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination provides safe, effective, and long-lasting protection against cancers caused by HPV infections.” Moreover, vaccination studies have shown no indication that the effects of HPV vaccines diminish over time; in other words, once you are vaccinated, you are protected.
In addition, rates of cervical lesions caused by types of HPV preventable by HPV vaccination have dropped 40% in vaccinated women since the introduction of the vaccine.
To conclude, January is the start of the new year, and it’s no coincidence that it is also Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. As you begin your “new year, new me” journey, make it a point to include screening and, if applicable, vaccination in your resolution.