January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, a designation made by Congress to raise cervical cancer awareness and education and encouraging research into its cause, prevention, early diagnosis and treatment. This month, we especially celebrate the lives of women who have survived cervical cancer as we remember those who have died from this terrible disease.

We also want to increase awareness of new research that points to the need for revised cancer screening recommendations for survivors younger than 50.

Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer for women. In America, an estimated 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, about 4,000 of whom will die as a result of this cancer. This number is much higher in developing countries like Latin America.

When a woman is diagnosed early, her odds of surviving cervical cancer are good, with about 68 percent of women surviving at least five years.

If you are a cervical cancer survivor 50 and younger who received radiation as part of your treatment, you should be aware of new colorectal cancer screening recommendations based on findings of a recent study from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

My research colleagues and I found that women who had received radiation for cervical cancer were at significantly higher risk for developing colorectal cancer during their surviving years, specifically eight years after completing radiation treatment.

The current colorectal cancer screening guideline calls for a first colonoscopy at age 50 and then every 10 years thereafter if no polyps are found in the initial screening. There are no recommendations for women 50 and younger who are at high risk because they have a history of cervical cancer treated with radiation.

Based on our study’s findings, a woman who developed cervical cancer and received radiation at a young age should not wait until she is 50 to get her first colonoscopy. These women should ask their primary care providers about starting screening about eight years after radiation treatment.

This study was conducted by investigators with the Comparative Effectiveness Research on Cancer in Texas Project. CERCIT is part of a new area of research that examines long-term health outcomes among cancer survivors. As more and more people are surviving cancer, researchers are learning more about their health outcomes 20, 30, even 40 years after their diagnosis.

As a CERCIT investigator, I am part of an interdisciplinary group of researchers examining important questions about cancer screening and the quality of treatment, follow up and ongoing supportive care for cancer patients and survivors in Texas. The consortium includes researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Rice University and the Texas Cancer Registry.

Dr. Ana M. Rodriguez is an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.