January is Cervical Health Month

Awareness, vaccinations, screenings key to prevention

By Dr. Kimberly Bekemeier


Did you know that January is Cervical Health Awareness Month?
Why cervical Health? Because nearly 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and it’s preventable!
Cervical cancer effects daughters, mothers and grandmothers. It effects best friends and cousins, neighbors and colleagues…


This disease is seen in many faces

What does Cervical cancer look like?

  • It’s a 42-year-old mom of two, married and monogamous for 10 years who underwent a hysterectomy before her 40th birthday, and has to start chemo and radiation this month for a recurrence. Her initial and only recurring symptom was irregular bleeding.
  • It’s an 82-year-old great grandma who was first treated with a hysterectomy at the age of 73, had a recurrence 5 years later that required radiation, and has been incontinent since, who now is in the midst of her third treatment course for invasive disease and has daily pain and cannot sit without a donut pillow. Her only initial symptom was vaginal bleeding.
  • It’s a 23-year-old college student who sat alone waiting for her biopsy results to be given – cervical cancer. She had no symptoms, just some “abnormal” cells on a routine pap screening.

What can the end of cervical cancer look like?

It’s getting your daughter vaccinated, encouraging your wife to get her pap smear, its driving your best friend to her well woman exam, it’s encouraging your mom to go back in after a decade to check on herself.


Beginning of the end

The end of cervical cancer starts at the beginning. It’s vaccination, it’s screenings, it’s prevention!

The HPV vaccine, also commonly known by the brand name Gardasil is available to help protect the next generation before they’re ever sexually active, and pap screening helps protect those over the age of 21 with early detection and identification of precancerous lesions that can be treated.

What is HPV?  There are two types of HPV, the high-risk strain that can lead to cervical cancer and the low risk type that causes genital warts.  The HPV vaccine protects against both!

Most men and women — about 80 percent of sexually active people — are infected with HPV at some point in their lives, but most people never know they have the virus.

The CDC recommends that all girls AND boys get the vaccine between 11 and 12 years old to get the best immune response.  The vaccine is available in a 2-dose form for those younger than 15 and a 3-dose form for those 15 and older.

Why vaccinate the boys?  Because they will be someone’s boyfriend, someone’s husband, someone’s dad. They can be a good example for the women in their lives.  They can protect the women in their lives.

And they can be affected by HPV too. HPV associated cancers are on the rise in the ENT offices.  HPV can be transmitted to any mucosal tissues: throat, mouth, pharynx from anyone effected.


Path to prevention

So, do I need the vaccine or the pap screen?

If you’re under 45 you can get the HPV vaccine. If you’re over 21 you should start your pap screenings.

A pap smear is a swab of the cervix to detect changes in the cells or HPV infection. As the testing has become much more sensitive it is able to pick up even very small changes in the cervix that can be a sign of possible future cancer risk.

For this reason, pap screenings are now done every three years for women between 21 and 29 years old and co-testing with HPV is done on women 30 to 65 years old every five years.  Those without a cervix (women who’ve had a hysterectomy) usually don’t need any further pap testing and those over 65 years old who’ve tested negative are often done with pap smears as well.

We encourage you to come talk with one of our skilled Physician, Nurse Practitioners, or Physician’s Assistants today to discuss your cervical health and the prevention that is best for you!


Here’s to a New Year and a New You, a Healthy You that has taken charge of your cervical health!