(WHTM) — January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and according to a study released last year, late-stage cervical cancer appears to be on the rise.

A doctor with the Cleveland Clinic says that could be due in part to the pandemic, as well as the change in guidelines for pap smears.

In the past, women were told to get them done annually. Now it’s every three years and in some cases, every five years.

“It’s sort of hard to count by threes. And it’s very easy to kind of lose track of when your pap smear was and our guidelines are so that if it’s done one way then it’s a slightly different screening protocol. And I think that may be one of the issues that has led to an identification of more advanced cervical cancer that we’re seeing in the United States,” said Dr. Robert DeBernardo of the Cleveland Clinic.

Cervical cancer is a cancer of the cells in the cervix, which is the lowest part of a woman’s uterus.

Early symptoms of cervical cancer don’t usually involve any symptoms and can be hard to detect, making pap smears extremely important.

The test can help identify any abnormal cells.

When symptoms do occur, they can include bleeding after sex, pelvic pain, and discharge that contains blood.

Dr. DeBernardo says cervical cancer is preventable and is often the result of the virus HPV, a sexually transmitted infection.

Testing for HPV is equally as important and so is the HPV vaccine, which both men and women can get between the ages of 11 and 45.

“We developed a vaccine years ago, there are several on the market, they are extremely effective at preventing cancer. In Australia where uptakes of vaccines are high, they are seeing a decrease in the amount of cervical cancer in that country,” said Dr. DeBernardo.

According to the CDC, roughly 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed every year in the U.S., in addition to 4,000 deaths.