More women in Kentucky should join the fight to end cervical cancer by getting vaccinated and undergoing regular screenings for the disease, the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) announced today.
Women age 9 to 26 years old can receive a vaccine to prevent the human papillomavirus (HPV) linked to cervical cancer. Gardasil, the HPV vaccine, is viewed as one of the most significant women’s health developments in recent years. However, the vaccine is not recommended for all women, and DPH officials stress that it does not prevent all strains of HPV or eliminate the need for annual Pap tests, gynecological exams that screen for cervical cancer.
“A Pap test is one of the most important health tools for women to prevent cervical cancer,” said Health and Family Services Cabinet Secretary Janie Miller. “To maintain good health throughout the course of our lives, we must practice prevention. Doing things like avoiding tobacco, following a healthy diet and getting regular exercise are important, but it’s also important to stay up-to-date on vaccines and get regular health screenings that detect disease.”
According to information from the National Cancer Institute, Kentucky has the seventh highest rate of cervical cancer among all 50 states and the seventh highest number of deaths from cervical cancer each year.
“This data underscores the imperative need among Kentucky women to join us in the fight against cervical cancer by educating themselves about the disease and talking to their health care provider about the HPV vaccine and Pap test,” said Joy Hoskins, RN, assistant director of the Women’s Health Division in DPH.
The Pap test, also called a Pap smear, screens for abnormal cells in the cervix that may lead to cancer if not treated. The screening is done in a doctor’s office or clinic and only takes a few minutes. Results of the test are usually ready within a few days.
If the results of the Pap test show abnormal cells that could become cancerous, numerous treatment options are available to remove the abnormal cells. In most cases, the treatment prevents cervical cancer from developing.
“Cervical cancer remains a serious threat to women’s health despite the development of the HPV vaccine and early detection tools,” said Ruth Ann Shepherd, M.D., director of the Division Maternal and Child Health in DPH. “Women who don’t have health insurance or can’t afford a screening should call 1-800-4CANCER, or your local health department to see if the Kentucky Women’s Cancer Screening Program (KWCSP) can be of assistance. If more women have access to care, we can reduce the rates of cervical cancer.”
The Kentucky Women’s Cancer Screening Program (KWCSP) provides health services for women who meet the program’s income guidelines and do not have health insurance.
Three factors are used to determine KWCSP eligibility. To be eligible, patients must be between the ages of 21-64; uninsured (no Medicaid, no Medicare, and no private insurance); and have an income at or below 250 percent of federal poverty guidelines.
· KWCSP offers low-cost mammograms and Pap tests through local health departments in every county.
· Appointments can be made by calling your local health department or 1-800-4CANCER.
· The KWCSP, part of CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, also provides diagnostic services. If cancer or pre-cancer of the breast or cervix is found, treatment services are available.
Typically, if abnormal cells are present in the cervix, it takes years before they develop into cervical cancer. First, some cells begin to change from normal to pre-cancer and then to cancer.
For this reason, DPH stresses the importance of Pap tests for women who’ve never been screened for cervical cancer or have not had a Pap test for five or more years. If you or a loved one falls into this category, contact your health care provider to schedule an appointment.