Cervical Health Awareness Month



What is Cervical Health Awareness Month?

Cervical-Cancer-RibbonThe United States Congress designated January as Cervical Health Awareness Month.  During January, you may wish to highlight issues related to cervical cancer, HPV disease and the importance of early detection. Some of the issues you may wish to highlight are personal stories of women and family members/caregivers battling issues related to their persistent HPV/precancer and/or cervical cancer.

You may wish to highlight recent advances and research in the prevention, detection and treatment of cervical cancer or HPV.

You can highlight the success of your local/regional early detection cervical cancer screening and treatment programs and human-interest stories on the importance of early detection, education and the emotional issues related to battling cervical cancer and HPV.

chemotherapy-for-cervical-cancer-disease-pic3Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, play a role in causing most cases of cervical cancer.

When exposed to HPV, a woman’s immune system typically prevents the virus from doing harm. In a small group of women, however, the virus survives for years, contributing to the process that causes some cells on the surface of the cervix to become cancer cells.

The death rate from cervical cancer is declining, thanks in part to screening. Doctors hope a vaccine may prevent most cases of cervical cancer in the future.

You may not experience any cervical cancer symptoms — early cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms.

As the cancer progresses, the following signs and symptoms of more advanced cervical cancer may appear:

  • Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after menopause
  • Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor
  • Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse
  • When to see a doctor
  • Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you.

HPV spl_human_papilloma_virusesTalk to your doctor about when to begin screening for cervical cancer and how often to repeat screening. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that girls have their first visit with an obstetrician-gynecologist or family doctor between ages 13 and 15, or before beginning sexual activity, to discuss sexual activity and ways to prevent sexually transmitted infections, including HPV.

How is HPV transmitted?

HPV is passed on through genital contact, usually during vaginal and anal sex, as well as during oral sex. People with weakened immune systems, such as those on chemotherapy or people with HIV are more susceptible to HPV infection.

One of the most common symptoms of genital HPV is genital warts. They can appear in the genital area around a woman’s vulva, around the anus and vagina, and internally on the cervix. The warts look like similar to warts you would find on your fingers or other parts of the body (also a type of HPV infection) – swelling of the skin that is moist and soft of varying size and that occasionally carries a ‘cauliflower pattern’.

The warts can appear within a few weeks or months of infection although in some cases they never appear at all. Because the HPV virus also infects men, it is good for women to know that the warts will manifest themselves on a man’s penis, groin, scrotum or thigh.

Cervical cancer begins when healthy cells acquire a genetic mutation that turns normal cells into abnormal cells.

Healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate, eventually dying at a set time. Cancer cells grow and multiply out of control, and they don’t die. The accumulating abnormal cells form a mass (tumor).

HPV Papilloma_2009_G1Cancer cells invade nearby tissues and can break off from an initial tumor to spread elsewhere in the body (metastasize).

What causes cervical cancer isn’t clear.

However, it’s certain that the sexually transmitted infection called human papillomavirus (HPV) plays a role.

Evidence of HPV is found in nearly all cervical cancers.

However, HPV is a very common virus and most women with HPV never develop cervical cancer.

This means other risk factors, such as your genetic makeup, your environment or your lifestyle choices, also determine whether you’ll develop cervical cancer.

Types of cervical cancer

The type of cell where the initial genetic mutation occurred determines the type of cervical cancer you have. The type of cervical cancer you have helps determine your prognosis and treatment.

The main types of cervical cancer are:

  • Squamous cell carcinomas. These begin in the thin, flat cells that line the bottom of the cervix (squamous cells). This type accounts for the great majority of cervical cancers.
  • Adenocarcinomas. These occur in the glandular cells that line the cervical canal. These cancers make up a smaller portion of cervical cancers.

Sometimes both types of cells are involved in cervical cancer. Very rare cancers can occur in other cells in the cervix.


These factors may increase your risk of cervical cancer:

  • Many sexual partners. The greater your number of sexual partners — and the greater your partner’s number of sexual partners — the greater your chance of acquiring HPV.
  • Early sexual activity. Having sex before age 18 increases your risk of HPV.
  • Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you have other STIs — such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis or HIV/AIDS — the greater your chance is of also having HPV.
  • A weak immune system. Most women who are infected with HPV never develop cervical cancer. However, if you have an HPV infection and your immune system is weakened by another health condition, you may be more likely to develop cervical cancer.
  • Cigarette smoking. Smoking and HPV infection may work together to cause cervical cancer.

Treatments for invasive cervical cancer often make it impossible to become pregnant in the future.

For many women — especially younger women and those who have yet to begin a family — infertility is a distressing side effect of treatment. If you’re concerned about your ability to get pregnant in the future, discuss this with your doctor before your treatment begins. In most cases, preserving fertility is more successful than trying to restore fertility after treatment.

What Can Your Do for Yourself?

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you. If you’re thought to have cervical cancer, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in treating gynecologic cancers (gynecologic oncologist).

Here’s some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.

What you need to do:

  • Write down your medical history, including other conditions with which you’ve been diagnosed.
  • Note any personal history that increased your risk of sexually transmitted infection, such as early sexual activity, multiple partners or unprotected sex.
  • Make a list of your medications. Include any prescription or over-the-counter medications you’re taking, as well as all vitamins, supplements and herbal remedies.
  • Write down questions to ask your doctor. Creating your list of questions in advance can help you make the most of your time with your doctor.

Questions to ask your doctor can include:

  • Do I have cervical cancer?
  • Has my cancer spread?
  • What treatment approach do you recommend?
  • What are the possible side effects or complications of this treatment?
  • Am I at risk of this condition recurring?
  • How often will I need follow-up visits after I finish treatment?
  • Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?
  • What to expect from your doctor
  • Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over any points you want to talk about in-depth.

Your doctor may ask:

  • What are your symptoms?
  • When did you first notice these symptoms?
  • Have your symptoms changed over time?
  • Have you had regular Pap tests since you became sexually active?
  • Have you ever had abnormal Pap test results in the past?
  • Have you ever been treated for a cervical condition in the past?
  • Have you been diagnosed with any sexually transmitted infections?
  • Have you been diagnosed with any other medical conditions?
  • Have you ever taken medications that suppress your immune system?
  • Do you or did you smoke? How much?
  • Do you want to have children in the future?

What Can You Do for Others?

As someone who is interested in educating and advocating for increased knowledge of cervical cancer and HPV disease, you can do a lot.

NCCC findachapter3Motivation is the key, that, and the willingness to make contacts with local media.

As part of a nation-wide education effort surrounding Cervical Health Awareness Month we are asking that state and local supporters of the NCCC mobilize to get the word out about cervical cancer and HPV.

Specifically, we ask for three things:

  • Distribute ASHA/NCCC’s cervical cancer/HPV press release to state and local media;
  • Enlist radio stations to announce Public Service Announcements (PSA) on cervical cancer and HPV; and
  • Seek placement of the NCCC’s public service announcements in local newspapers and magazines.

Radio public service announcements are available on the Community Awareness Toolkit page.  Imagine the amount of education that could be accomplished if each state had a story and/or PSA placed in each of the three major media venues & radio, television and print.

To help you get started, we have developed this easy-to-follow guide on how to work with the media at the state and local level to spread the message of Cervical Health Awareness Month and the importance of early detection.
Who Should You Contact?

To help spread the message as widely as possible, you should aim to contact the health or medical editor at each of your local newspapers and magazines, and the news directors or health reporters of each of your local television and radio stations. Because their time is often limited, be sure to be quick and concise in communicating your message.

It’s important to keep track of all of your media contacts and to note their interest in reporting on cervical cancer/HPV. This will help to keep you organized, and will help you respond more efficiently and promptly to requests for information and interviews.
How Can You Gain the Media’s Interest?

  • State and local media are firmly committed to making the news they report relevant to their readers. In other words, they like to report what’s happening in the neighborhoods they serve.
  • Strive to introduce elements of local interest to your story “pitch.”
  • There are a number of simple ways this can be achieved, just be creative.

Some examples include:

  • Make available local cervical cancer survivors for interviews. Local human interest “angles” are always popular with reporters, and their readers or viewers.
  • Talk about innovative research on cervical cancer/HPV that is going on at a local research university, or suggest local physicians who are willing to be interviewed.
  • Organize a local event to raise awareness of, or money for, cervical cancer/HPV research and then invite media to attend. Be sure to send out announcements at least a week in advance to ensure the greatest amount of interest and attendance.
  • Research local statistics on cervical cancer to provide as background to reporters. It can help to provide a local “tie-in” to a broader story about cervical cancer.

Who Can You Contact for Media Help?

  • We realize that many of you may have questions about how to develop a media list, where to go for reporters’ addresses and phone numbers, or just need a little coaching to get started.
  • Please contact the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) with any questions you may have dealing with the media: [email protected].

Media relations work can be intimidating at first, but remember that you have a strong educational message to deliver, and a newsworthy cause to promote. Before long, you’ll be confident and proficient! You can make this happen! Your active participation within your community will help educate women, family members and caregivers to issues related to cervical cancer/HPV. Help make a difference.

Your Action will make a difference.

Early Detection Saves Lives!






January 19-20, 2013
W Hotel Downtown, Atlanta, GA

The National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) 2013 Conference will bring together local NCCC Chapter Leaders, cervical cancer survivors and friends and family members, medical and scientific experts, and partner organizations in an event designed to offer information and hope on the subject of HPV and cervical cancer.

The conference will feature sessions on a variety of subjects, including:

  • Ask the Experts: Answers to your questions on HPV and cervical cancer
  • Personal stories from cervical cancer survivors
  • Sex and pleasure after cancer
  • How to advocate for cervical cancer prevention policies
  • Yoga taught by NCCC Founder Alan Kaye, focused on yoga poses of special benefit to cancer patients.
  • Adoption and other options

. . . and much more.

Click here to see the conference agenda. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to meet with others living with and concerned about HPV and cervical cancer.

RESOURCES: National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC), 6520 Platt Avenue, #693, West Hills, CA 91307-3218, (818) 992-4242 – [email protected] – www.nccc-online.org/awareness.html – Materials available, Contact: Rachel Biety.


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