In 2010, the United States Congress declared January as National Cervical Health Awareness Month in the hopes that it would help raise awareness for how women can protect themselves from human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer.

All women are at risk for cervical cancer, but it occurs most often in women older than 30. The state of Missouri is in the top third of the nation for its cervical cancer rates.

Cervical cancer was once the leading cause of death among women, but the death rate has dropped during the last few decades due mostly to prevention and early detection through routine Pap tests. If discovered and treated in its earliest stages, the survival rate of cervical cancer is 92 percent after five years.

What you should know about cervical cancer: Cervical cancer is the abnormal growth of cells on the cervix. Early cervical cancers and pre-cancers usually have no symptoms. Cervical cancer can often be prevented with regular screening tests and can usually be successfully treated when found early. Health care reform law covers well-woman visits and cervical cancer screening - this means that, depending on the insurance, women can get these services at no cost to them.

What you should know about HPV: HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease and is a major cause of cervical cancer. HPV can be prevented with the HPV vaccine. A person can have HPV for years and not know it. Both men and women can have HPV.

What you can do: Schedule your well-woman visit this year or encourage the women in your life to get their well-woman visit this year. It is encouraged that women start getting regular Pap tests at age 21. Know and understand the risk factors that can increase your risk of developing cervical cancer some of those risk factors include having HPV, having human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), giving birth to three or more children, using birth control for five or more years, or having multiple sexual partners. Get your pre-teens (both boys and girls) the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12. Girls and young women age 13-26 should get the HPV vaccine if they have not received any or all doses when they were younger.

Larry Jones, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.