By: Diana Barnes-Brown for Uterus1
A recent report by a bipartisan women’s government group has offered both good and bad news about the prevention of cervical cancer.
The good news, especially for the many American women who dutifully schedule their annual Pap tests: Cervical cancer rates have taken a nosedive in recent years due to improved screening technology and habits. The bad news: There’s little reason for anyone to suffer from the disease, which is one of the few forms of cancer that is now truly preventable.
In a little more than a quarter of a century, rates of cervical cancer in American women have dropped dramatically, from 7.7 cases per 100,000 women in 1969 to only 2.7 per 100,000 women in 2001. But the report “A Call to Action: The ‘State’ of Cervical Cancer in America,” written by Washington, D.C.’s Women in Government, says that U.S. doctors and patients can do better.
The introduction of Pap tests and tests that check for human papillomanvirus (HPV, the main cause of cervical cancer), into women’s annual health check-ups has accounted for the drop in rates. These days, if women stay connected with their doctors and are tested annually, they can all but guarantee they will stay cervical cancer-free.
|Pap Test Quick Facts|
1. A Pap test or smear collects cells from the cervix to check for changes that could indicate a problem.
2. Women should have a Pap test a least once every three years starting by age 21 if not before. (ask your doctor for more information)
3. Schedule your Pap test around your menstrual cycle – the best time is 10 – 20 days after the first day of your last period.
4. About 55 million Pap tests are performed each year in the U.S. Of these, approximately 3.5 million (6 percent) are abnormal and require medical follow up.
But some women are still reluctant to get checked, or may not understand the importance of this unpleasant, yet vital health ritual, due to lack of education or appropriate access to preventative health care.
Susan Crosby, the Women in Government’s acting executive director and president, noted that the current rates are not sufficient, given that cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that doctors now have the knowledge and technology to treat.
The report gave the U.S. an overall grade of “Good” on a scale of “Fair,” “Good,” “Very Good” and “Excellent.” Texas, Florida, and Utah were among the lowest rated states, while Massachusetts, Illinois and North Carolina ranked among the best. No states received a grade of “Excellent,” prompting the authors to argue that “states need to create a stronger infrastructure and enact policies to help women” when it comes to cervical cancer screening and education efforts.
Recent research published in the medical journal The Lancet adds to the arguments of Women in Government by demonstrating 100 percent effectiveness of a vaccine against HPV 16 and 18, two variants of HPV most often responsible for cervical cancer, in recent trials.
The American Medical Association currently advocates the availability and accessibility of public cervical cancer screening programs, coverage of Pap tests as part of standard health insurance benefits packages, and increased patient education to get the dwindling number of women who skip their screenings to take healthier steps.
This plan of attack is advocated by “A Call to Action,” as well. “Incidence and mortality rates of cervical cancer remain higher than necessary,” wrote the authors in their “Findings and Recommendations” section. “Women need more education … and better access to cervical cancer screening programs that use the most advanced technologies available,” they noted.
“While the states vary significantly in their current efforts to prevent cervical cancer,” the report concluded, “none of the states are where they should be, given that cervical cancer is highly preventable – particularly with the availability of advanced screening technologies such as HPV testing – no American woman should die of cervical cancer.”