Nothing in this article is meant to be medical advice. Please consult your own healthcare provider.
Some info below taken from:
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. First take-home fact: Most cases of cervical cancer and related deaths occur in women who have not been adequately screened or treated.
Second take-home fact: Human papillomavirus is the main cause of cervical cancer.
Last take home fact: Prevention is possible.
Remember the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? That’s the wisdom behind routine screening for preventable disease, such as cervical cancer. For decades, women have been strongly encouraged to have regular women’s health check-ups that routinely include the pelvic exam and Papanicolau smear; the latter specifically screens for cervical cancer. (Several years ago, the recommended interval between screenings changed from one year to three years for women with normal PAPs.)
Because of this widespread screening, occurrence of and death from this disease has decreased significantly. Nevertheless, there is a lingering disparity with women of color, with women of low-socioeconomic status and in certain geographic regions.
Rural regions are one area for potential concern as the access to healthcare can be restricted in some of these areas. Obviously, overall costs of healthcare are critical factors as well. Women who cannot afford to pay for their screenings/check-ups and health insurance opt out of care. And if the results come back positive, necessitating further tests/costs, women who cannot afford more tests or afford to pay for healthcare insurance are in trouble.
Interestingly, in October 2017, one premier source reports “… progress in reducing the number of new cases appears to have stalled among white women and younger women.” (www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org). How much might access to and affordability of healthcare services and insurance play a role in the “stalling”?
Every Woman Counts provides free breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services to California’s underserved populations. (www.dhcs.ca.gov/services/cancer/ewc/Pages/default.aspx where the nearest is Hemet Family Care Center, 880 N. State St., 951-766-2450.
HPV is sexually transmitted. It is not the virus that causes AIDS. Many women who contract HPV overcome it naturally. Other women do not, making them at increased risk for cervical cancer; it may take years for the cancer to develop. A test that detects HPV can be done at the same time that a PAP smear is performed.
There is a vaccine against HPV now offered for both boys and girls. Many parents are uncomfortable with this approach and choose not to vaccinate their child. It is given in a short series of shots, usually beginning at age 11 or 12.
Other risk factors for cervical cancer are:
• Having HIV/AIDS or another condition that weakens your immune system.
• Using birth control pills for five years or longer.
• Giving birth to three or more children.
• Having several sexual partners.
How do we reduce risks? Keep yourself safe with regular check-ups. Do not smoke. Limit sexual partners. Use condoms with all sex. Perform timely follow-through with any more tests recommended due to negative pap results. Delaying is dangerous.
Stay well in 2018.
Callie Wight is a California state-licensed registered nurse with a Master of Arts in psychology.