Cancer. It’s a word that few of us want to utter, never mind think about, but paying attention to our bodies is important. This month is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and one of the best ways to respect and observe it is to get familiar with symptoms, warning signs and the steps you can take to have a long, healthy life. Here are a few recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Get Screened Regularly

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to have regular Pap tests to detect any changes or irregularities in the cells of your cervix. It is now recommended that women over 30 have a combined HPV/Pap test to provide a more complete level of detection. It’s something many of us put off and it may not be most people’s idea of fun but it’s relatively simple, takes just a few moments and can be a real lifesaver.

Practice Safer Sex

The HPV virus is extremely common. In fact, at any given time, 79 million people in America are living with it. There are many strains of HPV. Most of them are relatively harmless but some can cause genital warts or cancer of the cervix, penis, vagina, vulva, throat and/or anus. Studies show that male condoms can help reduce the risk of contracting HPV but it’s important to note that they only protect the areas covered by the condom. Skin-to-skin contact, even without intercourse, can transmit the virus so there’s no way to be completely safe.

Consider the Vaccine

While not an option for everyone, there are three types of vaccines available that have been recommended for women 26 years of age and younger. They have been shown to provide protection against some of the higher risk strains as well as those that cause genital warts. Since these are relatively new and there are many current debates about vaccinations, it’s always important to discuss and weigh the risks with your medical professional.

Know the Symptoms

Symptoms of HPV infection tend to involve finding genital warts. It can be a demoralizing and emotional discovery but it’s important to remember how many people deal with this every day. This is not a reflection on who you are. Often, however, HPV infection and cervical cancer exhibit few symptoms, at first. This is why regular screening is important. That being said, any changes in menstrual flow (particularly if it becomes very heavy), vaginal discharge or pain in the pelvis should be addressed immediately with your healthcare provider.

Spread the Word

It’s awkward to talk about these types of things but if we can sit around and dissect every moment of Orange is the New Black, we can take a few minutes to remind the women in our lives about the importance of early detection and protection against the infections that can cause cervical cancer.

So dust off your cape and be a real-life superhero who spreads the word and saves lives!