GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — During Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, a Grand Rapids gynecologist is recommending women get regular checkups to help prevent the cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 14,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed this year.

Dr. Greg Gressel from Corewell Health (formerly Spectrum Health), who specializes in gynecologic oncology, said that cervical cancer is one of the most difficult cancers he treats. He said he wants everyone to be aware because the cancer is preventable.

“It disproportionally affects women of color, disproportionally affects young women with poor access to health care,” Gressel said.

Cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV, which Gressel said is very common. Over 90% of sexually active people will contract it at some point in their lives.

“Our immune systems usually get rid of the virus over time like colds, or flus or even COVID. But in some women, for reasons we don’t understand, the virus sits around for a long period of time and causes the cells of the cervix to become abnormal,” he explained.

While most women don’t experience symptoms with cervical cancer, there could be concerning signs such as abnormal bleeding or vaginal discharge, or pelvic pain.

“That’s why we screen for human papillomavirus, Pap smears and HPV testing and … the Gardasil vaccine, which is 90% effective at preventing cervical cancer. This is a curable cancer.”

Gressel recommends women see their gynecologist for annual pelvic exams whether they experience symptoms or not.

“We actually recommend screening for women ages 21 to 29, every three years with Pap smears alone and then from ages 30 to 65 with Pap smears and HPV testing every five years,” Gressel said.