Officials Remind Hoosier Women of Importance of Cervical Health

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Between 2000 and 2004, more than 400 women in Indiana died from cervical cancer, and more than 1,000 were diagnosed with the disease. State health officials say cervical cancer is almost 100 percent preventable, and they want Hoosier women to know how to protect their health.

"Most cervical cancer deaths can be prevented if women receive regular health care check-ups that include a Pap test to find and treat problems early," said State Health Commissioner Judy Monroe, M.D. "It is important that women know the facts about cervical cancer and how they can protect themselves."

State health officials say the most important risk factor for cervical cancer is infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). Pap tests screen women for precancerous cervical changes. In Indiana, although 94.6 percent of women surveyed in 2004 by the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System reported having had a Pap test at some time in their lives, only 57.7 percent said they had a Pap test within the preceding 12 months.

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Governor Mitch Daniels proclaimed January as Cervical Health Awareness Month to help increase awareness of the importance of good cervical health. Senator Connie Lawson has joined the Indiana State Department of Health and the Indiana Cancer Consortium in helping to educate women about the need for preventive and early detection care.

"We now have breakthrough technologies, such as an FDA-approved vaccine against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer, as well as an HPV test for use in screening," said Senator Connie Lawson. "With these new tools, we have a tremendous opportunity to eliminate cervical cancer. However, it is imperative that all age-appropriate women are educated about cervical cancer, HPV and the need for screening and vaccination, regardless of socioeconomic status."

State health officials say cervical cancer rates are higher among uninsured, underinsured, and minority women, who are less likely to receive regular preventive and early detection health care. A 2005 National Cancer Institute report found high cervical cancer rates indicate broad problems in access to health care, such as not having a usual source of health care and receiving lower rates of preventive health services, including cancer screenings.

"Increased awareness about cervical health and early detection are major elements in preventing cervical cancer," said Laura Morris, M.D., with the Cancer Center at Goshen Health System and co-chair of the Indiana Cancer Consortium Breast and Cervical Cancer Committee.

The new HPV/cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, was licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in June 2006 and has been approved by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). It is recommended for girls and women between the ages of 9 and 26.

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