January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month so to us there’s no better time than now to shine a light on this disease and provide you with the single most important tool to avoid ever hearing the words, “You’ve got cervical cancer.”
In 2017, about 12,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer and over 4,000 will die from this disease. When it comes to fighting back against cervical cancer (or reducing your risk of getting it in the first place), screening programs are key.
Effective screening programs allow doctors to catch and remove precancerous cells before they become cancer. Screening also allows doctors to find existing cancer before it has had the opportunity to spread, resulting in a better chance of being treated successfully.
Cervical cancer can be detected in its early forms by having a regular screening with a Papanicolaou (PAP) test. It is the gold standard for screening for this disease and can save your life.
According to the National Institutes of Health website, “Routine cervical screening has been shown to greatly reduce both the number of new cervical cancers diagnosed each year and deaths from the disease.”
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) guidelines suggest you should start getting regular screenings from the age of 21. If your results are normal, experts say you can wait 3 years for the next Pap test. You should continue getting screened until the age of 65 or until your cervix is removed. Even if you are not sexually active, it is still important to have your regular screenings because the virus that causes cervical cancer can lie dormant for decades.
HPV testing can be done along with the Pap test to detect whether there is human papilloma virus in your cervix. Two types of this virus can lead to cervical cancer so it’s an important screening tool to see if you are at greater risk for the disease. The USPSTF recommends you begin HPV testing when you are 30 years of age. If your results are normal, you can wait 5 years between.
Lack of affordability should never be a reason to put off testing. There are programs out there that can help subsidize not only the screening but also diagnostic testing and referrals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers many free cancer screening programs like their National Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Screening is offered through non-profit centers and local health clinics, and gives priority to serving women who do not have health insurance or have health insurance but it doesn’t cover screening exams. Services are provided through this program at free or reduced cost for many women.
To learn more about the CDC’s National Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, please visit the website at www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp/ or call 1-800-232-4636 to find a service provider near you. The National Cervical Cancer Coalition is another resource to locate free/reduced cost screenings. Find a location near you on their website.
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed and is having trouble paying for out-of-pocket insurance expenses, prescriptions, or other medical care, please take a look at the free financial resources for cancer patients we’ve listed on our website.