Every January, people across the United States celebrate Cervical Cancer Awareness Month to encourage routine screenings and vaccination.

A Black woman prepares another to receive her HPV vaccine. Share on Pinterest
Illustration by Bailey Mariner

Along with welcoming in the new year and making resolutions, in January, millions around the world also shine a spotlight on cervical cancer through the Cervical Cancer Awareness Month initiative.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cervical cancer is the fourth most frequently diagnosed cancer among women worldwide.

Keep reading to learn more about how you can support the search for a cervical cancer cure.

Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is a concerted public health campaign to provide education and urge women, trans men, and nonbinary individuals to take their gynecological health seriously.

January was established by U.S. Congress as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month in 2009.

Educating society on cervical cancer risk factors

Cervical cancer is considered one of the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer. Preventive measures are the most effective way to avoid developing the disease or to catch it early.

Cervical cancer is often linked to human papillomavirus (HPV), a very common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that anyone can develop.

Many people are unaware that two types of HPV in particular, types 16 and 18, are the types that can cause cervical cancer.

Anyone who has a cervix — including trans men that retain theirs — is at risk of developing cervical cancer.

Encouraging preventive measures

Cervical Cancer Awareness Month aims to educate the public on the importance of routine cancer screenings, as well as encourage individuals to consider getting the HPV vaccine if they’re able.

Because HPV can have no symptoms, many people don’t know they have it. Opting for the HPV vaccine is one way to avoid getting HPV.

Although the recommended age to receive the vaccine is between 11 to 12 years old, adults can still potentially receive it up to age 45. Meanwhile, engaging in routine cervical cancer screenings after the age of 21 is another way to catch the disease early on, when it can be easily treated and cured.

What color ribbon is worn for cervical cancer awareness?

Cervical cancer awareness leverages a teal and white colored ribbon.

Similarly, the National Cervical Cancer Coalition’s (NCCC) website and branding also share the same teal hue in their marketing materials. While Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is in January, NCCC focuses year-round on cervical cancer prevention and education for both health practitioners and the general public.

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While people can develop cervical cancer through other means, HPV is almost exclusively the cause of cervical cancer for people in the United States.

According to data released in 2021 by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), nearly 80 million U.S. individuals have contracted HPV — mostly in their teens or early 20s.

Meanwhile, roughly 12,000 U.S. people are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year.

Addressing health disparities

Health disparities for the disease exist among low-income populations and Communities of Color.

Cervical cancer can happen to anyone. But in the United States, new cases of cervical cancer occur at higher rates in Black, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaska Native women compared with other races and ethnicities.

These disparities are often caused by issues surrounding access to care and socioeconomic factors. Late-stage cancer diagnoses can also lead to poorer patient outcomes in these groups compared with others who catch the disease earlier.

Encouraging access to care

This awareness month also prioritizes informing people of their healthcare rights to bridge the gap of access to care by encouraging them to use public health programs that provide free or low cost cancer screenings.

The Breast Cancer and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act of 1990 led to the creation of the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. This initiative provides access to Medicaid-funded diagnostics and treatment for those diagnosed with both breast and cervical cancer.

How common is cervical cancer?

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2023, approximately 13,960 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed. About 4,310 people may die from it.

However, most of the cases diagnosed are precancerous and are found during a routine pap smear. This means that treatment to remove cancerous cells is effective when caught early.

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Cervical cancer awareness hinges on educating people about the importance of vaccination and routine screenings.

Everyone can do their part to help spread awareness about cervical cancer, its causes, testing procedures, and ways to prevent it.

Providing information regarding access to care and resources for low-income individuals or those located in medical deserts is also essential. Note that medical deserts aren’t a term limited to people in rural communities. Many urban areas also face shortages of access to care, with few primary care physicians, hospitals, or even clinics serving certain areas within these communities.

Reach out to your local chapter of the NCCC to find out what events are happening near you. If none exist, they’ll also support you in hosting your own educational or fundraising event.

Other ways you can help support the cause include:

  • Start an awareness program at work.
  • Host a booth at a local health fair, farmers market, or street fair.
  • Donate to cancer research, like the American Association for Cancer Research.
  • Promote awareness for regular screenings and vaccination for HPV.
  • Encourage your local clinics to use inclusive language around cervical cancer.

Inclusivity in cervical cancer awareness

The conversation around cervical cancer almost exclusively focuses on women. But it’s important to keep in mind that anyone with a cervix, which may include trans men and nonbinary individuals that are assigned female at birth, can also contract cervical cancer.

Practitioners and educators need to be mindful of including these communities when speaking about cervical cancer and encouraging preventive diagnostics or treatment methods.

Offering trans people cervical screenings, as well as being mindful of gendered language during the diagnostic process, can ensure that trans men and nonbinary individuals increase cervical screenings and reduce the risk of having cervical cancer go undetected.

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Cervical cancer is one of the most common types of cancers that anyone with a cervix might develop.

Most cervical cancers are caused by HPV. Choosing to get the HPV vaccine and getting routine cervical cancer screenings are some of the best ways to avoid developing it or at least catch it early.

Every January, Cervical Cancer Awareness Month aims to further educate the community on the importance of preventive healthcare solutions and provide resources to bridge the access-to-care gap.