Published: January 10, 2013
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As the year 2013 begins, many individuals will make New Year's resolutions to stay on track with healthy habits. Since January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, one excellent way for women to do this is to talk to their doctor about getting a pap test to screen for this disease.
In northeastern Pennsylvania, the incidence rate of cervical cancer is 44 percent higher than the rate for the United States as a whole. A study conducted by the Northeast Regional Cancer Institute in 2008 discovered that compared to Pennsylvania as a whole, fewer women in our region had been screened for cervical cancer and the number of women who were being screened was decreasing over time. The higher incidence rate of cervical cancer in our community may be due, at least in part, to those historically low cervical cancer screening rates.
The Cancer Institute reminds women to have a pap test at least once every three years, beginning no later than age 21. The test is quick and painless and, if cervical cancer is caught early, survival rate is extremely high. In addition, the pap test can detect pre-cancerous conditions which, if treated, can prevent cervical cancer from ever developing.
Some individuals may think that because they feel healthy, there is no need for them to be tested. However, in many cases, women with cervical cancer experience no symptoms until the disease has progressed to a later stage, when it is more difficult to treat.
It is also important to know that women should still receive a regular pap test, even if they have received the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine. While most cases of cervical cancer are caused by infection with HPV, the vaccine does not protect against all strains of the infection and there are other risk factors for developing cervical cancer such as smoking, a weakened immune system and a diet low in fruits and vegetables.
For women who do not have health insurance that covers a pap test, resources are available in the community to ensure that they are able to get this important screening. The Northeast Regional Cancer Institute Patient Navigation Program helps guide uninsured or underinsured individuals through the process of obtaining recommended cervical, breast and colon cancer screenings while helping them to overcome barriers they may face (i.e. transportation, childcare or financial resources). For more information on the Patient Navigation Program or cervical cancer, visit www.cancernepa.org or call the Cancer Institute at (800)424-6724.
The medical community has come a long way in terms of reducing cervical cancer deaths in recent years. However, it is up to each one of us to take full advantage of these extremely effective screening tools. Take the time to get tested, and spread this potentially life-saving message to friends and family.
The Northeast Regional Cancer Institute is a nonprofit, community-based agency working to ease the burden of cancer in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Focusing on community and patient services, hospital and practice support services, and survivorship, 100 percent of Cancer Institute resources are invested in this region. For more information about the Cancer Institute, visit www.cancernepa.org or call 1-800-424-6724.