Health Dept: Important info about cervical cancer during awareness month

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.

What is cervical cancer?


Cancer is a disease in which some of the body’s cells grow out of control. The type of cancer is named for the part of the body where it starts, even if it spreads later. When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer. The cervix is the lower, narrow end of a woman’s uterus (womb). Cervical cancer usually grows very slowly, so it is highly curable when found and treated early.

Who gets cervical cancer?


All women are at risk for cervical cancer. More than 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. It is most frequently diagnosed in women between ages 35-44. Deaths from cervical cancer continue to decline because early screening and testing allows for early treatment.

What causes cervical cancer?

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV (human papillomavirus), a virus that can cause changes in the cells of the cervix. HPV is very common. By age 50, approximately 80 percent of women have been infected with some type of HPV. Most types of HPV do not cause cancer, but some types can transform normal cervical cells into abnormal ones, which may then develop into cervical cancer.

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

Early cancers of the cervix usually do not cause symptoms. A woman who experiences any unusual symptoms should notify her healthcare provider. Examples of unusual symptoms include:

  • Vaginal bleeding that is not normal for you, such as bleeding after sex.
  • Any kind of unusual vaginal discharge.
  • Pelvic pain.
  • Symptoms can be a sign of other health problems, not just cervical cancer.

Is there a test for cervical cancer?

A screening test called a Pap test can find cervical cancer. It is a simple test that collects and looks at cells from the surface of the cervix. Women should start to get regular Pap tests at age 21. If you are older than 65 and have had good Pap test results for several years, or if you have had your cervix removed (during an operation called a hysterectomy), your doctor may tell you it is OK to stop getting regular Pap tests. Depending on your age and Pap test history, your provider may also test you for HPV.

What is the HPV vaccine?

The vaccine protects both girls and boys against HPV and the cancers/genital warts that HPV can cause. The HPV vaccine is recommended for both girls and boys ages 11 to 12 (and up until age 45 for those who haven’t been vaccinated yet). It is important to note that even women who are vaccinated against HPV need to have regular Pap tests.

Can I get free or low-cost Pap tests or HPV vaccine?

If you have health insurance, check with your insurer to learn about your benefits and coverage. If you are a woman in Carroll County aged 40-64 years and do not have health insurance, you may be eligible for no-cost cancer screening through the Maryland Breast and Cervical Cancer Program. Call the Carroll County Health Department at 410-876-4423.

For other locations in Maryland, call 1-800-477-9774.


For help with the HPV vaccine: The Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program is a federal program that offers vaccines at no cost for eligible children, ages 18 and under, through VFC-enrolled doctors. Contact the Maryland program at 410-767-6674.

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