January is cervical cancer prevention month

ATLANTA - January is Cervical Cancer Prevention and Awareness Month and the American Red Cross wants women to know that regular screenings can prevent cervical cancer deaths.

It is recommended that women have a Papanicolaou test (also called Pap test or Pap smear) annually within three years of becoming sexually active, but no later than 21 years old.

The most important risk factor in the development of cervical cancer is infection with a high-risk strain of human papillomavirus, though there are several risk factors. Women who have many sexual partners, smoke, have had multiple pregnancies, have certain sexually transmitted diseases or have a poor diet, for instance, are at greater risk. Using oral contraceptives over a long-term period can also increase the risk, according to the American Cancer Society.

In 2009, more than 400 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in Georgia, and more than 100 will die, according to the American Red Cross. The organization said early detection is the key to prevention and survival. The five-year survival rate for pre-cancer detection is nearly 100 percent. More than 92 percent of women who have localized, early-stage cancer detected survive.

"If more women had an annual Pap test, deaths from cervical cancer could decrease even more," said Dr. Sandra Elizabeth Ford, acting director of the Georgia Division of Public Health.

For more information on cervical cancer or preventive programs in Georgia, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345.