January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Nearly 13,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, but the disease is preventable with vaccination and appropriate screening.

Cook County Health encourages women to get screened for cervical cancer and receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine if they’re eligible. Screening tests can find early signs of disease so that problems can be treated early, before they ever turn into cancer. 

HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer and the most common sexually transmitted infection. It is so common that at least 50% of sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. The HPV vaccine, which must be given in three doses, can protect women against four HPV types – the two most common high-risk strains (HPV 16 and 18). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the inoculation for girls and women aged 11 to 26, but can be given as early as age 9. The vaccine should be given before an infection occurs, ideally before a girl becomes sexually active.

People can also lower their chances of getting HPV by being in a faithful relationship with one partner, limiting their number of sex partners and choosing a partner who has had no or few prior sex partners.

Cervical cancer usually does not have symptoms until it is advanced. For this reason, it is important for women to get regular screening for cervical cancer.

People should talk to their health care provider about what screening tests they need and how often they need them.