Despite the fact that cervical cancer is preventable if found early, each year in Vermont nearly 30 women are diagnosed with it, and approximately 9 will die from the disease.
During January, Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, the Vermont Department of Health is encouraging women to undergo an annual Pap test.
The primary cause of cervical cancer is the human papilloma virus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. While both men and women are infected with HPV, most people with HPV can't tell they have it. For women, a Pap test is the only way to detect changes in the cervix caused by HPV before cervical cancer develops.
"Most cervical cancers develop over a period of many months to years, and abnormal cervical tissue can be detected easily by a Pap test and then removed by a health care provider before the tissue develops into cancer," said Health Commissioner Sharon Moffatt, RN, MSN. "Since the Pap test was introduced more than 60 years ago, the number of cervical cancer deaths have decreased by as much as 74 percent."
Women must be screened regularly and consistently throughout their lives. In Vermont, more than 80 percent of adult women report having a Pap test in the past three years. Women who do not get screened regularly are older than 65, have no insurance coverage and no regular provider of healthcare, and tend to have less education.
The Health Department is also encouraging young girls and women to be immunized with HPV vaccine.
The HPV vaccine is approved for ages 9-26, recommended for girls age 11-12, and is covered by most insurance plans, including Medicaid for women ages 19-26. Through a combination of federal and state funds, which pays for the purchase of the HPV vaccine, girls 9-18 can get the HPV shot through their primary care provider.