With everyone talking about 2014 resolutions and predictions, you may not be aware that January is Cervical Health Awareness Month.

Each year in the U.S. approximately 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and more than 4,000 die as a result.

However, cervical cancer is preventable through vaccines and screening tests. How can you make sure you or the women in your life don't get this disease?

Bayhealth OB/GYN Miaohou Xu, MD, helps explain why cervical screening is so important for women's health.

What is cervical screening?

A test called a "pap smear" or "pap test" helps health care providers look at the cells on a woman's cervix. If the cells are unusual, follow-up testing helps providers learn more and intervene when necessary.

Who should have the test?

Women aged 21 and older should have the test. Even if you are/were sexually active before age 21, the test is not recommended until age 21.

Where can I get a pap test?

Your regular doctor or provider can do the test. You do not need to go to a specialist. Gynecologists also do the tests.

How does the test work?

The pap test is very quick. The provider will gather cells from your cervix using a special brush. Most women do not find this painful or even feel it.

A laboratory will examine the cells and look for signs of pre-cancerous lesions. The human papilloma virus, or HPV, is the most common cause of abnormal cells.

Depending on the test results, your provider may recommend additional testing.

What should I know about HPV?

HPV is spread through sexual intercourse. There are many types of HPV. Some cause genital warts, and some lead to cervical cancer. Many people will have HPV, but some people's bodies may take care of the disease on their own.

It takes years for HPV to cause cervical cancer. Regular pap tests help health care providers identify the disease when there is still time to treat it.

Is there any way to prevent HPV?

There are two HPV vaccines currently available. They are recommended for people aged 9-26.

It is best to get the vaccine before you become sexually active. Pediatricians, family practices, and gynecologists can give you the vaccine.

Studies show that the vaccine prevents HPV.

The vaccines have been shown to have very few side effects.

If you do not have the vaccine and are sexually active, you should use condoms. Using condoms will reduce the chance that you get HPV.

To learn more about preventing cervical cancer, speak with your health care provider or visit bayhealth.org. If you do not have a health care provider, call 1-866-BAY-DOCS.