5 Things About Cervical Cancer WEB

5 Things About Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer once ranked as the no. 1 cause of cancer deaths for U.S. women. Fortunately, it no longer breaks the top three. The number of cervical cancer cases and deaths significantly decreased in the past 40 years, and the CDC largely credits regular Pap tests for this decline.[1] Considering these improvements, one thing is certain: Prevention is key. As such, congress designated January as Cervical Health Awareness Month.[2] It is a good time to focus on preventive care and remember that you can protect yourself from cervical cancer and its greatest cause, human papillomavirus (HPV).

It is true that some populations face a higher risk for cervical cancer than others. The cervix remains among the top 10 cancer sites for black and Hispanic women.[3] These are risk factors we can’t control. However, there are others we can. It starts with education. Cervical health is important among all women, and what follows is a list of things you should know about preventing cervical cancer.

1. Cervical cancer is highly preventable

Regular cervical screenings known as Pap tests, also known as Pap smears, along with necessary followup care, go far in preventing cervical cancer and related deaths. As a matter of fact, experts say that most cervical cancer deaths could be prevented by Pap tests and followup care.[4]

Pap tests detect abnormal cells before they become cancerous. An unclear or abnormal test result may require additional testing to ensure cell changes are not cancer-related.[5] More than 3 million women in the U.S. get unclear or abnormal Pap test results annually; of these women, about 10,000 will actually have cervical cancer.[6] If you get unclear or abnormal test results, do not ignore them. Work with your doctor and schedule followup testing and treatment as advised.

Another test important to prevention and early detection is an HPV test. Whereas the Pap test looks for precancerous cells (cells that have changed) on the cervix, the HPV test looks for the human papillomavirus that may cause such cell changes.[7]

2. HPV almost always causes cervical cancer

HPV almost always causes cervical cancer.[8] It is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States—about 79 million Americans have HPV and don’t know it.

There are many types of HPV, and there are specific strains that may cause cervical cancer. A vaccine has been developed to immunize against them. According to the NCCC, researchers found that infection rates before and after the first HPV vaccine became available dropped 56 percent for HPV types covered by the vaccine.[9] The CDC recommends that boys and girls get all three doses of the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12.[10] Women may receive the vaccine through age 26 and as early as age 9.[11] The two HPV vaccines currently available include Gardasil, which is for men and women, and Cervarix, which is for women only.

3. Your Pap and HPV tests may be free

Cervical cancer screening for sexually active women and HPV DNA tests are among the Affordable Care Act’s preventive health services for women—preventive health services that must be provided at no additional cost to insured individuals when they receive them from an in-network provider.

Most health insurance coverage should include these preventive health services, as outlined by the ACA. Private health insurance plans purchased today through the state exchanges, the federal marketplace and private marketplace include these tests at no additional cost to you, as does Medicaid. If you have questions about whether or not your health insurance plan covers these tests for free, contact your health insurance company prior to receiving them.

If you do not have health insurance or you have coverage that does not provide these benefits for free, visit the following resources to find free or low-cost screenings near you:

As for HPV vaccines, they are not included in the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s covered preventive services under the Affordable Care Act. However, families that may struggle to afford the vaccines may be eligible for funding through the Vaccines for Children program. Visit cdc.gov/vaccines/programs/vfc/index.html to learn more.

4. Annual testing is no longer recommended

Old guidelines recommended that women visit the doctor annually for a Pap test. That’s no longer the case. The USPSTF revised those guidelines in 2012, and others, such as the American Cancer Society, adjusted theirs as well.[12]

The current Pap test guidelines for average-risk women are as follows[13]:

  • Age 21 to 29 — every 3 years
  • Age 30 to 65 — every 3 years if you only have a Pap test and every 5 years if you have both a Pap test and an HPV test
  • Age 66 and older — ask your doctor

The American Cancer Society, American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, American Society for Clinical Pathology, USPSTF, and American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists all recommend against annual screenings and screenings prior to 21 years of age.[14] Those at high risk for cervical cancer may need more frequent screenings; they may include women with HIV, an organ transplant or exposure to the drug DES.[15] For more detailed recommendations from these organizations, click here for screening guidelines.

5. You can lower your risk

In addition to regular Pap tests and HPV tests, as recommended by the USPSTF and your healthcare provider, there are other actions you can take to reduce your risk for HPV and cervical cancer.

Those at higher risk for HPV include those who[16],[17],[18]

  • Started having sex before age 18
  • Have unprotected sex
  • Have multiple sexual partners
  • Have sex with others who have multiple sexual partners
  • Use birth control for a long time—five or more years
  • Have given birth to three or more children
  • Have Chlamydia infection
  • Have a weakened immune system or HIV infection
  • Smoke

To prevent cervical cancer, it is advised you:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Limit your sexual partners
  • Use condoms during sex
  • Get the HPV vaccine—applies to those under age 26
  • Again, schedule regular Pap tests—these may be covered for free under your health insurance plan

Prevention and early detection are key when it comes to keeping cervical cancer diagnosis and death rates low. While you may not need to get tested every year, you should maintain annual well-woman visits to discuss health risks, concerns and screening needs with your healthcare provider.

Get insured for 2015

If you need an ACA-compliant health insurance plan that covers preventive care such as Pap tests, visit HealthCare.com to research your options. Use the subsidy calculator to see if you qualify for a premium tax credit that reduces your monthly payment; if you are eligible, shop and enroll for coverage through your state exchange or the federal marketplace.

If you need help deciding what health insurance plan is right for you, call 877-275-0485 to talk to a licensed health insurance agent from one of our trusted partners. Remember: Open enrollment for 2015 health insurance plans ends Feb. 15.

 

 

 

[1] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Cervical Cancer Statistics.” Last reviewed Sept. 2, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/statistics/.

[2] National Cervical Cancer Coalition. “Celebrating Cervical Health Awareness Month.” http://www.nccc-online.org/index.php/january.

[3] U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. United States Cancer Statistics: 1999–2011 Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Cancer Institute; 2014. Available at: www.cdc.gov/uscs.

[4] Healthfinder.gov. “Cervical Health Awareness Month.” http://healthfinder.gov/nho/JanuaryToolkit.aspx.

[5] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Making Sense of Your Pap and HPV Test Results.” Last reviewed Jan. 5, 2012. Last updated July 25, 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/pap/.

[6] Ibid.

[7] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.” Last reviewed Aug. 13, 2014. Last updated Jan. 7, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/resources/features/CervicalCancer/.

[8] Ibid.

[9] National Cervical Cancer Coalition. “Prevention.” http://www.nccc-online.org/index.php/prevention.

[10] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.” Last reviewed Aug. 13, 2014. Last updated Jan. 7, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/resources/features/CervicalCancer/.

[11] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Cervical Cancer.” CDC Publication #99-9123. Revised July 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/pdf/cervical_facts.pdf.

[12] Simon, Stacy. “New Screening Guidelines for Cervical Cancer.” American Cancer Society. March 14, 2012. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/new-screening-guidelines-for-cervical-cancer.

[13] Healthfinder.gov. “Get Tested for Cervical Cancer.” http://healthfinder.gov/HealthTopics/Category/doctor-visits/screening-tests/get-tested-for-cervical-cancer.

[14] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines for Average-Risk Women.” http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/pdf/guidelines.pdf.

[15] Simon, Stacy. “New Screening Guidelines for Cervical Cancer.” American Cancer Society. March 14, 2012. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/new-screening-guidelines-for-cervical-cancer.

[16] Healthfinder.gov. “Get Tested for Cervical Cancer.” http://healthfinder.gov/HealthTopics/Category/doctor-visits/screening-tests/get-tested-for-cervical-cancer.

[17] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Cervical Cancer.” CDC Publication #99-9123. Revised July 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/pdf/cervical_facts.pdf.

[18] National Cervical Cancer Coalition. “Prevention.” http://www.nccc-online.org/index.php/prevention.

About Jenifer Dorsey

Jenifer Dorsey is a regular contributor to HealthCare.com. She has covered health insurance and health and fitness for more than five years. In her free time she is a competitive track cyclist and loves to travel, especially to places with velodromes.

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