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January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

By J.R. TIDWELL / Editor

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and the Alabama Department of Public Health would like to remind everyone that cervical cancer is “90 percent preventable.”

According to a release from the organization, “With improved education, access to gynecologic care, and most importantly – vaccination, cervical cancer can join other eradicated diseases of the past. When found early, cervical cancer is highly treatable and associated with high survival rates.”

Most forms of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that ADPH says 80 percent of women will be exposed to at some point in their lifetime.

“HPV is passed person-to-person through sexual contact,” said the ADPH. “Because HPV usually does not exhibit any symptoms, it is possible to have HPV without knowing it, and to unknowingly spread the virus to others. Although men are not at risk for cervical cancer, they are at risk for other types of HPV-related cancers, including penile and oropharyngeal cancers of the neck, mouth and throat.”

A series of vaccines can help protect women and men from the most common types of HPV.

“HPV vaccination could prevent more than 90 percent of cancers caused by HPV,” said the ADPH. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that the ideal age to vaccinate is 11 and 12.

“ACIP also recommends HPV vaccination to include the ‘catch-up’ age for both men and women age 18-26. Recently, the ACIP voted to expand the recommendation to also include older adults up to age 45 who had not been adequately vaccinated. Research has shown that older adults can still benefit by gaining protection against the HPV types to which a person has not been exposed.”

According to the CDC, cervical cancer causes death in 4,000 women in the United States alone each year, and there are more deaths related to cervical cancer in Alabama than any other state.

“The average age of diagnosis tends to occur in women between the ages of 35 and 44,” said the ADPH. “Many older women do not realize that the risk of developing cervical cancer is still present as they age; in fact, all women are at risk for cervical cancer.”

“Because cervical cancer is over 90 percent preventable, it is important for women to take charge and be active participants in their own health,” State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said. “Both screenings and HPV vaccinations help reduce the risk of illness and death.”

To help prevent cervical cancer, the ADPH urges women to get vaccinated, practice safer sex, be smoke-free, have routine Pap screenings, ask for an HPV test with Pap smear for ages 30 and over and watch for abnormal vaginal discharge and bleeding and seek immediate medical attention.

“The Alabama Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (ABCCEDP) provides free cervical cancer screenings for women who meet eligibility guidelines,” said the ADPH. “Through the Title X program, cervical cancer screening is also available in 83 county health departments across the state.”

For more information about free screenings, contact ABCCEDP toll-free at 1-877-252-3324 or contact the Chilton County Health Department at 205-755-1287.

More information can also be found at alabamapublichealth.gov/cancer, alabamapublichealth.gov/bandc and usahealthsystem.com.