A new study shows that women are not receiving life-saving cervical cancer screening, especially in the Southern states.
The Vital Signs report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that about eight million women between 21 and 65 years of age have not been screened for cervical cancer in the last five years.
Cervical cancer is a cancer that affects a woman’s cervix. It is almost always caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. More than 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and 4,000 women die annually from the disease. 93% of cervical cancers could be prevented by screening and HPV vaccination, yet more than half of new cervical cancer cases are women who have never been screened or not been screened in the last five years.
In cervical cancer screening, health care providers use a Papanicolaou (Pap) test to collect cells from the cervix and screen for abnormal cells that may develop into cancer if left untreated. The CDC recommends women ages 21-39 have a Pap test every three years and women ages 30-65 tested every three years, or every five years if combined with a HPV test.
“Every visit to a provider can be an opportunity to prevent cervical cancer by making sure women are referred for screening appropriately,” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Ileana Arias, Ph.D in a release. “We must increase our efforts to make sure that all women understand the importance of getting screened for cervical cancer. No woman should die from cervical cancer.”
Researchers from the CDC and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reviewed data from the 2012 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to determine women who had not been screened for cervical cancer in the past five years. They analyzed the number of cervical cancer cases that occurred during 2007 to 2011 from CDC’s National Program of Cancer Registries and the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program. Cervical cancer deaths were based on death certificates submitted to the National Vital Statistics System.
Data showed that women without health insurance and those without a regular health care provider were more than twice as likely to have not received cervical cancer screening in the last five years.
“The findings show that approximately 1 in 10 women had not been screened in the past 5 years, including 1 in 4 women who had no health insurance and 1 in 4 who had no regular health care provider,” researchers concluded.
The study also found that the Southern region had the highest rate of cervical cancer, the highest death rate, and the largest percentage of women who had not been screened in the past five years.
Use of the HPV vaccine could also reduce the risks of cervical cancer and certain other cancers. The CDC recommends all children 11-12 years old receive the vaccine. However, in 2013 only 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys received vaccination.
Resources for Cervical Cancer Screening and HPV Vaccination
If you have heath insurance or receive health care through a program such as Medicaid, ask your doctor or insurance provider about cervical cancer screening and HPV vaccination. The Affordable Care Act requires that most health insurance plans cover these services at no additional cost to the patient. Women covered by Medicare receive free cervical cancer screening.
For more than 20 years, the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program has provided free or low-cost screening and diagnostic breast and cervical cancer services to low-income, underinsured, and uninsured women. Women can find a local provider by contacting their state agency that administers the program.
The Vaccines for Children (VFC) program is a federally funded program that provides vaccines, including the HPV vaccine, at no cost to children at risk of remaining unvaccinated due to inability to pay.
Cervical cancer screenings and HPV vaccination may also be available through your local health department.
Photo Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention