With the new year in full swing, the Tennessee Department of Health is urging women across the volunteer state to reflect on their health and seek care that could prevent a life-threatening illness: cervical cancer.

Between 2011-2015, Tennessee saw 1,470 cases of cervical cancer, according to the CDC. Across those years, 530 women died of the disease.

While it’s no longer the leading cause of cancer death, cases of cervical cancer are ever-present. The American Cancer Society estimates that 2019 will see more than 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer in the United States.

Though the numbers seem bleak, Director of Reproductive and Women’s Health for the Tennessee Department of Health Kelly Luskin says cervical cancer is almost 100 percent preventable. Routine Pap screenings, avoiding tobacco and receiving the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination can help.

Women between 21 and 65 years of age should get periodic screening for cervical cancer and talk with their health care providers about ways to prevent and reduce the risk of cervical cancer,” Luskin stated n a release.

Cervical cancer is silent in its approach and often strikes without symptoms or pain.

The single greatest risk for cervical cancer is HPV. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, of the approximately 79 million Americans who have HPV, most don’t know they are infected.

So common is the virus that the department said more than half of all sexually active people will be affected by one or more strains of HPV in their lifetime.

The department encourages women to receive the HPV vaccination, a two-to-three dose series which can prevent HPV infection and cervical cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine be taken for both men and women between the ages of 11 and 12, however, it can be given between the ages of nine and 26.

Pap smear screenings for HPV and cervical cancer are recommended every three years for women ages 21-65, and some women choose to be screen less frequently at five year intervals.

The Tennessee Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program provides diagnostic testing to qualified uninsured or underinsured women in the state. For more information, call 615-532-8383, visit the website here, or contact your local health department.

For information about cervical cancer, who is at risk, signs and symptoms and more, read the CDC’s cervical cancer fact sheet here.

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