According to the CDC, while rates of cervical cancer incidence and mortality have been decreasing1, in 2011, over 12,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer and over 4,000 lost their lives2. Cervical cancer is preventable by taking steps to avoid contracting the human papillomavirus (HPV) and receiving the recommended screenings at the right times.
The HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer3. The CDC estimates that HPV causes approximately 10,400 new cases of cervical cancer each year in the United States4. Luckily, we can protect our cervical health and prevent contracting HPV by taking the following steps.
1. Get the Pap test (but not too often)!
In 2012, ACOG changed their guidelines regarding Pap tests, now recommending that women receive the test beginning at age 215. From the ages of 21-29, women are advised to receive annual women’s wellness exams, but should only get Pap smears every three years. Women who are 30-65 years old should continue to get Pap tests every three years, or every five years when they receive both the HPV screening test and a Pap smear. After 65 years of age, women who have been “adequately screened” are recommended to stop getting Pap tests6.
2. Get the HPV Vaccine.
Boys and girls should get the three doses of HPV vaccine at 11 or 12 years of age7. Women who have not been vaccinated are able to receive the HPV vaccine until age 26, and men until age 21. Men who test positive for HIV, and gay and bisexual men are also advised to get the vaccine until age 267.
3. Stay Informed and Inform a Friend.
Guidelines about how often and when to begin receiving screenings change. Stay informed about recommended Pap test schedules and tell your friends and family. If you are under 26 and haven’t been vaccinated, read up about the Cervarix and Gardasil vaccines here7.
4. Advocate for the Programs that Increase Access to Well-Woman Services
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has increased the affordability of insurance coverage by expanding Medicaid in 28 states8 and providing discounted insurance plans to low-income consumers. Under the ACA, preventative services, like women’s wellness exams and vaccines, are provided by Medicaid and plans through the Marketplace without co-pays. While this is the case, programs and clinics that provide free or low cost preventative health screenings and vaccines are important to the women who remain uninsured (due to the cost or their eligibility) and rely on those programs. Be a women’s health advocate and fight to protect the programs that allow women to be in control of their cervical health!
Programs for Low Cost or Free Pap smears and HPV Vaccines
- Gardasil Patient Assistance Program: free HPV vaccines for those who qualify
- Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program: free HPV vaccines for children
- Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program: free breast and cervical cancer screenings for those who qualify
- Illinois Medicaid: free health coverage for low-income adults and children
Written by Cristina Turino, Research Assistant and UIC MPH/MBA Candidate
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Cervical cancer trends. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/statistics/trends.htm
2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Cervical cancer statistics. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/statistics/index.htm
3Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). What should I know about screening? Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/screening.htm
4Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Human papillomavirus (HPV) –Associated cancers. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/statistics/cases.htm
6The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2012). New cervical cancer screening guidelines announced. http://www.acog.org/-/media/Districts/District-II/PDFs/USPSTF-Cervical-Ca-Screening-Guidelines.pdf
7Association for Reproductive Health Professionals. (2012). Health matters fact sheet – Understanding HPV vaccines. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm
8Kaiser Family Foundation. (2015). Current status of state Medicaid expansion decisions. Retrieved from http://kff.org/health-reform/slide/current-status-of-the-medicaid-expansion-decision/