by Cheryl Licata
Cancer Services Program of Niagara County
Take some time this January to observe Cervical Health Awareness Month and learn what you can do to detect and prevent cervical cancer. "
Cervical Health Awareness Month is an excellent time for women to talk to their health care providers about cervical cancer screening and prevention", said Claudia Kurtzworth, coordinator of the Cancer Services Program of Niagara County. "Regular health visits and follow-up care can help women avoid cervical cancer."
Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer are not usually apparent in the earliest, most treatable stage, so it is important for women to get a Pap test (or Pap smear) regularly. The Pap test can prevent complications of cervical cancer through early detection. In the United States, the Pap test has reduced cervical cancer rates by more than 70 percent.
Cervical cancer is almost always caused by persistent infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a common virus that can be spread from one person to another during sex. Women who are sexually active can reduce their risk for HPV infection by using latex condoms during sex and by reducing the number of sexual partners. Females between the ages of 9 and 26 or parents of minors can also talk to their doctors about the HPV vaccine. This vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most often causes cervical cancer, and is available to both males and females. "It is still important for women to have regular Pap testing even if they have received the HPV vaccine," emphasized Kurtzworth.
In addition to HPV infection, there are other factors that increase a woman's risk of developing cervical cancer, including:
•Not having regular Pap tests
•Failure to follow up with a health care provider after an abnormal Pap test result
•Having HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, or another condition that makes it hard for the body to fight off health problems
"All women are at risk for cervical cancer and should visit their health care providers for regular Pap testing," said Kurtzworth. "It is especially important for women who have not had a Pap test within the past five years to get screened; six out of 10 cervical cancers occur in women who have never received a Pap test or have not been tested in the past five years." It also is important to continue getting a Pap test even if you think you are too old to have a child, or no longer sexually active.
There are many ways women can live a healthy lifestyle and help improve outcomes related to cancer. These include not smoking, avoiding second-hand smoke, making healthy food choices, keeping a physically active regime, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting recommended cancer screenings.
New York state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fund Cancer Services Program Partnerships in each county to provide uninsured women 40 years and older access to free cervical, breast and colon cancer screening. The number to call for information in Niagara County is 278-8285. Qualified women who complete screening through the program will receive a $10 Budwey's Gift Card while supplies last.
For more information about the HPV vaccine, visit:http://www.nyhealth.gov/prevention/immunization/human_papillomavirus/index.htm. For cervical cancer sites, visit: www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/index.htm.