Happy 2023! We hope everyone had a joyous holiday season and are recharged and ready for a happy, healthy year ahead.

We’re thankful for many things as we head into 2023, including continuing to have the opportunity to offer our bi-weekly public service column to Valley Advantage readers. For today’s column, we’re spotlighting Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, which throughout January distributes critically important information regarding this terrible, but treatable disease.

Every year, more than 14,000 women are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer, and more than 4,000 die from the disease, according to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition. Fortunately, many strides have been made in recent years to combat cervical cancer, from enhanced screening and treatments to the ascendance of the HPV vaccine. Thanks to those efforts, cervical cancer is now the most preventable of all female cancers.

The fight against cervical cancer begins with childhood HPV vaccinations. The most common of sexually transmitted diseases, human papillomavirus, or HPV, currently infects more than 40 million people in the United States, most of whom are in their teens and early 20s. As it happens, HPV is the cause of nearly all cervical cancers in women. In addition, a number of head and neck cancers caused by squamous cell carcinoma have tested positive for HPV virus.

Fortunately, HPV vaccines can prevent infection from the high-risk HPV variations that can lead to cervical cancer, squamous cell carcinoma of head and neck, as well as the low-risk versions that cause genital warts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all boys and girls ages 11 or 12 should receive the vaccine, as it has a stronger immune response during the preteen years. Only two doses of the vaccine are required up until the age of 14, while for those 15 and older, a three-dose series is required.

Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should receive a cervical cancer screening every three years with a Pap smear, which can detect the presence of cervical cancer or cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer. Meanwhile, women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have a cervical cancer screening every five years – either a Pap smear and high-risk HPV test or a high-risk HPV test.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many women fell behind on their regular women’s health care screenings. In response, last spring our Scranton Practice launched a weekly initiative that allowed patients to catch up on their regularly scheduled women’s health care screenings, which included pelvic exams, breast cancer screenings and cervical cancer screenings, as well as referrals for mammograms.

The screenings were a success, and we plan to continue doing more of them in the spring. Please check our events page online at TheWrightCenter.org/events for the most current schedule.

We’ve definitely made great strides in the fight against cervical cancer, but we need to continue to promote the importance of vaccinations and screenings. According to the World Health Organization, cervical cancer could be the first cancer ever to be eliminated if 90% of girls are vaccinated, 70% of women are screened, and 90% of women with cervical disease are treated in timely fashion.

Until that day comes, we’ll continue to do our part to fight the disease with good medicine and continuous community outreach.

Dr. Erin McFadden is medical director of The Wright Center for Community Health Scranton Practice. The Wright Center’s mission is to improve the health and welfare of the communities we serve through inclusive and responsive health services and the sustainable renewal of an inspired, competent workforce that is privileged to serve. This mission is delivered through a Graduate Medical Education Safety-Net Consortium model that engages two complementary entities: The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education, The Wright Center for Community Health, a Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike, and four partnering national Federally Qualified Health Centers.