While many of us are shaking off the post-holiday blues and getting cracking on our resolutions, January also marks Cervical Health Awareness Month, a month designated to shining a spotlight on a wide range of cervical health issues, including human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer, once one of the most common causes of cancer death in American women, occurs when cells in the cervix, the lower part of the uterus, slowly become abnormal.
There are two common types of cervical cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. As many as 90 percent of cases are squamous cell carcinomas, meaning the cancer cells cover the surface of the cervix. The majority of the remaining 10 percent of cases are adenocarcinomas, meaning the cancer starts in the gland cells that make mucus.
More than 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer that has spread outside the cervix are diagnosed every year in the U.S., and more than 4,000 women die from the disease each year. Most cases occur in women between the ages of 35 and 55, and when caught early enough, cervical cancer is highly treatable.
According to the American Cancer Society, other cervical cancer risk factors include smoking, a weakened immune system (such as in a person with HIV), having many pregnancies and being young during a first pregnancy, as well as family history and some medication and drug use.
While advancements have certainly been made in vaccinating against HPV, the advice hasn't changed in decades when it comes to combating cervical cancer, as can be seen in this 1979 article from the People magazine archives.
Can anything be done to prevent cervical cancer?
There is action a woman can take -- like having yearly Pap smears on an absolutely religious basis. Cervical cancer is a disease that can be prevented by early detection of precancerous changes in the cervix.
In hopes of inspiring more women to take the measures necessary to prevent this disease, here are some of the notable women who have battled cervical cancer.
The founder of Liz Lange Maternity is now a vocal spokesperson for cervical cancer awareness after her own 2001 diagnosis. "The diagnosis terrified me," she told Health.com: I had a 2-and-a-half-year-old and an 8-month-old baby, and I was working on a fashion show and launching a new product line. On a personal level, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be there for my children; professionally, I was afraid that if people knew about my diagnosis, they would think of me as sick and be uncomfortable doing business with my company. It was so upsetting that any time I talked about it I burst into tears. I kept silent about it for a long time." After a hysterectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, Lange has been cancer-free. "Now I feel absolutely compelled to tell my story, because it really shows how it can happen to anyone," she told the website.
The actress reportedly faced mounting medical bills for both cervical cancer and kidney disease before ultimately losing her battle with stage 4 cervical cancer in 2012. African-American women are most likely to die from the disease, compared to women of other races and ethnicities, according to 2008 data from the CDC, possibly because black women seem to have more trouble clearing HPV, which usually goes away on its own within a year or so.
In 2012, the beloved author shared in a blog post that she had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. But, deeper into her post, she also revealed she had a hysterectomy 17 years earlier because of cervical cancer (caused by HPV). "No other treatment necessary," she wrote on her blog: Another story for another time. If I had a young daughter or son I'd talk to their docs about having the vaccine to protect them from getting or giving HPV. If only there was a vaccine to protect us from breast cancer we'd be lined up -- wouldn't we?
In 2001, the actress was diagnosed with cervical cancer after a Pap test, People reported. She opted for a hysterectomy, but doctors were able to preserve her ovaries, allowing her to welcome son Zev in 2008 via a surrogate. "I woke up after the surgery, and I asked what they took out," she told People in 2007. They didn't know what they would find beforehand. But it was just my uterus. I had my ovaries, and I didn't have to go through chemo. I thought, "Okay, now the cancer is gone. Let's get going." My doctors gave me the all clear, and I moved to New York City in January 2002. It was the best time of my life.
The 27-year-old British reality TV star died from cervical cancer at the age of 27, after publicly documenting her battle with the disease. Some questioned how the disease progressed in someone so young, and Goody admitted to ignoring doctors' urges for follow-up care, Health.com reported. Still, her openness and honesty about treatment did raise awareness for prevention. Experts noted spikes in the number of young women making appointments for Pap tests shortly after her death, HuffPost UK reported.
The former first lady of Argentina, more commonly known as Evita, was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer in August 1951, according to an essay in The New York Times. At the time, it was common to keep the patient in the dark about her true condition, so Peron was told she had a uterine problem and then operated on in secrecy. (The doctor entered the room only after she was under anesthesia.) Radiation and chemotherapy (and a lobotomy "for the pain") followed, but she grew sicker, until dying from the disease in 1952 at the age of 33.
This "Real Housewife" of Orange County appeared on an episode of the "Dr. Oz" show and revealed she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2012. "I go to the doctor and I have lumps in my breasts and I had cervical cancer that had to be removed... I'm talking to my doctor about... doing a hysterectomy," she said.