January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that more than 12,500 cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed, and more than 4,000 women died from the disease in 2019, the latest year of available data.
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"Cervical cancer is diagnosed with tissue sampling, so like with a biopsy, but abnormal cells can be picked up with a screening exam, like a Pap smear, which can lead to being able to diagnose cervical cancer," says Dr. Cardenas-Trowers.
Screenings are recommended to start at 21 years old, but may start earlier depending on health or risk. Then, depending on age and the type of test, screenings are generally performed every three to five years.
"Early cervical cancer, there aren't really many signs or symptoms. Screening plays a very important role by being able to pick it up early and therefore have treatment and better outcomes," says Dr. Cardenas-Trowers.
If cervical cancer progresses to a later stage, symptoms may include abnormal vaginal bleeding, bleeding after menopause and pain, in general or with intercourse. An HPV infection increases the risk for developing cervical cancer and can be prevented with vaccination.
"There is a vaccine out there that can be given as early as 9 years old and up to 45 years old. (That is) is very important to know, not only for women, but actually for men," says Dr. Cardenas-Trowers.
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