What You Need to Know About Cervical Health

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January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, and Lisa Health wants you to know that there’s a lot you can do to prevent cervical cancer. Each year, more than 11,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer for women worldwide, but because it develops over time, it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer. Deaths from cervical cancer in the United States continue to decline by approximately 2 percent a year. This decline is primarily due to the widespread use of the Pap test to detect cervical abnormalities and allow for early treatment. Most women who have abnormal cervical cell changes that progress to cervical cancer have never had a Pap test or have not had one within the recommended guidelines.

Cervical cancer tends to occur during midlife. It is most frequently diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44. It rarely affects women under age 20, and more than 15 percent of diagnoses are made in women older than 65. But in women over 65, cancer typical occurs in women who were not receiving regular screening.

HPV (human papillomavirus) is a very common infection that spreads through sexual activity, and it causes almost all cases of cervical cancer. About 79 million Americans currently have HPV, but many people with HPV don’t know they are infected.

The good news?

  • The HPV vaccine (shot) can prevent HPV.

  • Cervical cancer can often be prevented with regular screening tests and follow-up care.

In honor of National Cervical Health Awareness Month, the National Cervical Cancer Association encourages:

  • Women to start getting regular cervical cancer screenings at age 21

  • Parents to make sure pre-teens get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12

  • Even if you are over 50, continue to visit your doctor for your annual well-woman visit.

Teens and young adults also need to get the HPV vaccine if they didn’t get it as pre-teens. Women up to age 26 and men up to age 21 can still get the vaccine.

Thanks to the health care reform law, you and your family members may be able to get these services at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to learn more. The National Cervical Cancer Coalition offers a service on their website to find free testing locations.

Taking small steps can help keep you safe and healthy.

  • HPV is usually passed by genital-to-genital and genital-to-anal contact (even without penetration). The virus can also be transmitted by oral to genital contact, although this probably occurs less often. Studies show that male condoms can reduce HPV transmission to females, although condoms only protect the skin they cover.

  • The American Sexual Health Association and the National Cervical Cancer Coalition have online support communities at Inspire.com that connect patients, partners, and caregivers. These are safe places where thousands of users find the information and support they need.

  • Visit the National Cervical Cancer Coalition website for more information and resources.

Whether you’re just starting to dip your toes into perimenopause, continuing to experience symptoms into postmenopause, or simply looking for some guidance on what to expect in the coming years of life, we’re here for you! For more information and support around your menopause journey, as well as ideas for symptom relief, join us over at Lisa Health.

Dr. Barb DePree is the Director of Women’s Midlife Services at Holland Hospital in Holland, Michigan, and has practiced as a board-certified gynecologist and women’s health provider for 30 years. She is a certified menopause specialist and in 2013 was named Certified Menopause Practitioner of the Year by the North American Menopause Society for “exceptional contributions” to menopause care. Dr. DePree also founded the groundbreaking website Middlesexmd.com, a site focused on educating women about sexual well-being, particularly during the menopause transition, and offering curated products that support vaginal health and sexual wellness.