January is National Cervical Health Awareness Month, which aims to raise awareness about the risks that can arise for people with a cervix, a part of the female reproductive system.
Nearly 14,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed and approximately 4,300 women will die from it in the United States in 2024, according to the American Cancer Society.
Most cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus, a common sexually transmitted infection anyone can get that often causes no symptoms. For most, HPV goes away on its own, but for some, it causes changes in the cervix, leading to cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As National Cervical Health Awareness Month comes to a close, Temple students, regardless of gender, should vaccinate against HPV if they haven’t already, and students with cervixes should receive routine pap smears to monitor their health and detect cancer in its early stages.
Although women younger than 20 have a lower risk of developing cervical cancer, it was once the leading cause of cancer deaths among females in the United States. Fortunately, taking preventative measures, like HPV vaccines and pap smears, from a young age greatly reduces the prevalence of cervix-related health problems.
Sejal Chaudhri, a sophomore health professions major, believes cervical health is not addressed enough compared to other female health concerns.
“I know with mammograms, they always tell you you should be checking yourself as soon as you’re 18, but with pap smears, I feel like it’s not as publicized and people don’t talk about it as much,” Chaundhri said.
A pap test, or pap smear, collects cervix cells to evaluate for precancers. A professional scrapes or brushes the cervix to remove cells for testing, which only takes a few minutes but can cause discomfort. People with cervixes should begin getting them at 21.
It usually takes three to seven years for changes in cervical cells to become cancer, so screening may detect these differences before they become cancerous, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Alea Delorenzo, a junior painting major, got her first pap smear at 17 and while it was uncomfortable, she believes others should routinely monitor their gynecological health.
“I didn’t know how painful it was going to be or what it consisted of, I just knew I had to get it done,” Delorenzo said.
Pap tests can be done at doctor’s offices, local health clinics or Planned Parenthood health centers. Temple’s Student Health Services also provides gynecology examinations, and students can schedule an appointment by calling (215)-204-7500. If results come back normal, individuals can wait an additional three years before getting their next pap test.
Pap tests can cost up to $150 depending on insurance, but at SHS they are considered routine care, which is covered by the University Services Fee. Outside of Temple, the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program can help uninsured and low-income populations gain access to these examinations at low cost.
Angela Jain, a gynecologic oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center, encourages receiving the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, because it can effectively limit the risk of cancer among both men and women.
“There is a really great vaccine that people can get up until the age of 46 to protect them from the risk of cervical cancer, but it also would protect them from head and neck cancer, anal cancer, vaginal cancer and vulvar cancer,” Jain said.
Getting the HPV vaccination could prevent more than 90 percent of cancers caused by HPV from developing, according to the CDC.
“If sexual intercourse is the way that HPV spreads then it would just be as important for men and women to be vaccinated,” Jain said.
The HPV vaccine is typically done in childhood before an individual is exposed to HPV, but adults can receive the vaccine if they haven’t already. The vaccine is less effective for older age groups when HPV transmission has already occurred, but it still can protect against new infections.
Any student who has not been vaccinated should consider receiving the HPV vaccine as soon as possible.
SHS currently provides the Gardasil vaccine for a fee. Pharmacies like CVS on 12th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue and Rite Aid on Broad and Oxford Streets also provide HPV vaccines and students can schedule their appointments online.
Out of pocket, the vaccine can cost more than $250, but it may be free or require a lesser copay depending on insurance. The Gardasil website provides an estimated cost breakdown based on insurance types. The vaccine’s manufacturer, Merck, also has a patient assistance program offering Gardasil at no cost for uninsured individuals ages 19 to 45 who cannot afford it.
Pap tests and the HPV vaccine are effective ways for individuals to stay proactive about their health and prevent the development of cervical cancer. Students should include these practices in their healthcare to promote good health and identify cervical cancer proactively.
“There’s so many things that can go wrong being a girl — ovarian cancer, cysts — so it’s important to get a checkup just like you would go to the doctor to get every part of your body checked,” Delorenzo said.