LAKE COUNTY — January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and the health department is encouraging women to get tested.

Cervical cancer can be deadly, but it also can be prevented if detected early. Many district health department offices, including the Baldwin office, offer free tests which can find the first signs of the disease.

"It is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and it's important to get screened," said Katie Gunderson, the breast and cervical services coordinator for District Health Department No. 10. "The health department offers screenings and we have options for people with and without insurance. There are income and age restrictions for the free screenings, but there are options so everyone can get tested."

Cervical cancer can be treated and cured when found early and is almost always caused by the human papillomavirus. Vaccines are available to protect against the types of HPV which most often cause cervical cancer.

There are two screening tests to help prevent cervical cancer or find it early. This includes the pap test (or pap smear) which looks for precancers, which are cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately, and the HPV test which looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes. The pap test is recommended for women between ages 21 and 65.

"These tests can detect cancer at early stages so we can direct people to the proper specialists if anything suspicious is found," said Gunderson. "Each of these tests are available through the health department."

The Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Navigation Program provides free annual breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services to qualifying women ages 40 to 64 who have no insurance or who have high deductibles. District Health Department No. 10 staff also can help women through the navigation program by identifying and addressing individual barriers that may prevent access to breast and cervical screenings. Women younger than 40 years of age also can benefit if they’ve been previously diagnosed with abnormalities.

"Cervical cancer is very preventable if you get tested regularly," explained Gunderson. "It's important to get all sorts of cancer tested for, but we really want to take advantage of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month to get the word out and spread awareness about the condition and how detection is both crucial and available."

For more information or to schedule a screening, call (231) 745-4663.