SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — January marks the start of a new year, and it’s also a time when many people are thinking about improving their health and well-being.

For women, cervical health should be one of the top priorities, according to medical experts.

That’s why January is also Cervical Health Awareness Month.

The goal is to raise awareness for the importance of getting screened for cervical cancer and making sure people are vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV) — the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

HPV causes cervical cancer, but fortunately, the HPV vaccine can prevent it. 

Around 13,000 women get diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and approximately 4,000 of them die from it, the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program reports.

The key, says Chatham County Nurse Manager Tammy Brown, is getting screened sooner rather than later.

“Early detection really helps with treatment the best,” Brown told News 3. “We want people to come in early if we see an issue, then we can refer them out to a provider.” 

Brown works at the Georgia Department of Health’s Coastal Health District, which offers a Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention program (BCCP) for women ages 21 to 64. 

The program helps make sure that lack of or limited insurance coverage and low income aren’t barriers for women getting the screenings and vaccines they need.

Women meeting certain requirements can come in for pap smear testing and pelvic exams that check for cervical cancer. 

The Coastal Health District also offers HPV vaccines.

“Most cervical cancers are linked to HPV, so we definitely recommend if anyone has not had that vaccine that they come in get that, as well,” Brown said.

The vaccine is recommended for boys and girls ages 11 to 12, but people can receive it up until age 43, Brown added.

She says it’s often that people come in and receive abnormal Pap smear results. The ages of those women vary, she added. 

“We do work with a provider from Memorial Health who comes once a month to do colposcopies,” Brown said.

“If we do get an abnormal Pap smear, then we will refer them to that program, and if they need further treatment, then they would go through that physician,” she said.

If you’re unsure of whether you meet the BCCP program’s requirements, Coastal Health District says you can give them a call or visit their website for more information.