Did you know as much as 93% of cervical cancer cases can be prevented by proper screenings and the HPV, or human papillomavirus, vaccination? More than 12,000 women in the US are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. Many of these might be prevented with these easy interventions.
With the COVID 19 pandemic continuing to affect people’s daily lives, a common trend has emerged within healthcare. Preventative medicine appointments continue to get shifted as patients attempt to wait out the end of the pandemic. One recent study showed up to an 80% decrease in cervical cancer screening during the first year of the pandemic and the rates still lag far behind expected numbers. While 90% of women say they have been visiting friends and family, dining, shopping and more during the pandemic, only 48% of women are visiting their doctor’s offices. While continued protection against COVID is essential with use of masks and vaccines, it is also important to not fall behind on other life-saving preventive measures.
Cervical cancer is most often caused by HPV which infects 80 million individuals, mostly in their teens and early 20’s. Vaccination is recommended for everyone age 9-26 and for some people age 26-45. Starting at age 21, women should begin Pap tests every three years. Once a woman reaches 30, this may be spaced out to every 5 years with additional testing for HPV. Unfortunately, almost half of all women are unsure how often they need screening or have not seen their OB/GYN or primary provider in the last three years.
Once an abnormal pap smear is identified, diagnostic testing can be done in the office with a procedure called a colposcopy. This is a close exam of the cervix with biopsies or tissue sampling of possible abnormal areas. Treatment of precancerous changes can also be performed in the office or with outpatient surgery. If cervical cancer is identified, women are sent to gynecologic cancer specialists for care.
Some women defer preventive screenings such as pap smears out of concern about the costs. However. Low cost options are available through Shawnee Health Care and other Community Health Centers through a sliding-fee program which reduces cost based on income. We also work with the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer program to provide free screenings like mammograms, breast exams, pelvic exams and Pap Tests to eligible patients. To learn more visit our financial assistance program page.
The United States Congress has designated January as Cervical Health Awareness Month. Make your New Year Resolution for 2022 to focus on self-care and if you are overdue, schedule your next Women’s Health visit.