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Cervical Health Month: Make a New Year’s resolution to prioritize your health

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New Year’s resolutions often have us vowing to exercise more, eat healthier or save more money. But over the last two years, many people have missed regular healthcare appointments, with more than 2 in 5 people saying they skipped a medical appointment in the early months of the pandemic.

For your resolution this year, prioritize your health. With Cervical Health Awareness Month falling in January, it’s the perfect time to recommit to crucial preventive care appointments.

What is Cervical Health Awareness Month?

Each year, more than 13,000 women in the United States receive a cervical cancer diagnosis. But many cervical cancers are preventable with proper screening and vaccination.

Each January, the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) and the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) educate communities on cervical cancer prevention, including human papillomavirus (HPV) and the importance of early detection.

What can I do to lower my risk of cervical cancer?

While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent cancer of any type, the good news is that we have strategies proven to lower your risk of cervical cancer. There are two key strategies: regular screenings and HPV vaccines.

Cervical cancer screenings

Screenings enable your provider to find early-stage cancer and cervical changes that could turn into cancer. Often, cervical cancer doesn’t cause any noticeable signs or symptoms in its early stages, underscoring the need for regular screenings.

Both types of cervical cancer screenings take a small sample of cells from your cervix to examine in a lab. Sometimes, your provider can use the same sample to complete both screenings, if needed. You may have:

  • Pap smear: Women aged 21 to 29 should have a Pap smear every three years, as long as Pap results continue to be typical. With a Pap smear, providers test cervical cells to see if there are any irregularities.
  • HPV test: Women aged 30 to 65 may have an HPV test every five years instead of or along with Pap smears. HPV tests look for the most common high-risk types of HPV.

HPV vaccines

In women younger than 21, HPV vaccines are the single most effective tool in preventing cervical cancer. Experts recommend that everyone between the ages of 9 and 26 get the HPV vaccine. And though the vaccine is most effective before HPV exposure, it can still have some protective effects up to age 45.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, affecting around 8 in 10 people who are sexually active. And there’s a direct link between HPV infection and your risk of cervical cancer. At least 14 of the 100 types of HPV lead to cancer, with two specific types of HPV accounting for about 70% of cervical cancers and precancerous growths. If you’ve never had the HPV vaccine, talk with your healthcare provider about whether it’s right for you.

What else can I do for my health?

A healthy lifestyle can increase your overall wellness and lower your risk of chronic conditions. And with New Year’s resolutions, a lot of us want to adopt new and better lifestyle habits. When it comes to cervical health, there are a few factors that can make a significant difference:

  • Boost your immune system. If you have a healthy immune system, your body will be better equipped to clear an HPV infection, should you have it. Sleeping enough, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and getting the right nutrients all increase your overall immune health.
  • Quit smoking. Women who smoke, especially those with HPV, are more likely than nonsmokers to develop several types of cancer, including cervical cancer. If you smoke, work with your healthcare provider on a plan to quit.
  • Manage stress. While there’s not a direct correlation between stress management and cancer prevention, managing stress with healthy coping tools increases your overall wellness. And some research has shown that many women get abnormal Pap results after periods of intense stress. Deal with stress in healthy ways, such as talking with a friend, journaling or praying.

This new year, don’t put your well-woman visit on hold. Find a provider near you today.