Thanks to vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV) and increased screening rates, cervical cancer is now less common and less deadly than it was a few decades ago. With January’s designation as Cervical Health Awareness Month, nurses can take this month as an opportunity to talk about cervical health and the great strides in helping raise awareness about how women can protect their own bodies. two women with their heads together in a comfort pose in a healthcare setting for a cervical health blog

The strides against cervical cancer are so great that the World Health Organization has launched an program to eliminate the disease altogether. Calling cervical cancer preventable and curable if caught at an early enough stage, the Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative highlights the socio-economic factors that make cervical cancer particularly deadly for those in poorer countries. To help give more people the tools and information they need, the WHO has identified three pillars to successfully reach its goal. With vaccination, screening, and treatment, the world can be on track to eliminate this form of cancer which killed 300,000 women in 2018.

According to the WHO, the HPV vaccine is key and the goal is to fully vaccinate 90 percent of girls before they reach 15 years of age. Similarly bold goals of screening 70 percent of women with specific tests at two separate ages, and then ensuring that nearly all women with precancerous findings are treated and those with invasive cancer are managed will help ensure that cervical cancer is no longer such a threat to women’s health.

Some of the barriers to optimal cervical health are the same as those that permeate poorer communities and nations–lack of access to affordable, high-quality health care. By initiating programs that remove those barriers, cervical cancer can become less of a health threat.

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And the methods to this two-fold approach are well proven. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that the HPV vaccine could prevent  nearly 34,000 cases of cancer every year in the United States.  Many different cancers stem from an HPV infection. HPV, a common sexually transmitted disease, is one of the driving triggers of cervical cancer but can be implicated in some oropharyngeal, anal, vulvar, and penile cancers as well.

No matter what your specialty is, as a nurse you can help share information about screening and HPV vaccination to help prevent cervical cancer. Talk with patients, families, friends, loved ones, community groups, and units within your workplace such as educators and other nurses. As HPV still carries some stigma as a sexually transmitted disease, the more it is talked about in the open, the more chance there is to reduce that stigma.

When people have questions, you can answer with the information you know, and you can also direct folks to the many resources through the National Cervical Cancer Coalition for the latest updates and information.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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