A growing number of individuals who are eligible to be screened for cervical cancer are skipping this important test, and that decision could cost them their lives. Each year in the U.S., 11,500 individuals are diagnosed with cervical cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and 4,000 die from the disease.
“When diagnosed early, cervical cancer is treatable and often curable,” says Angel L. Kerney, M.D., a board-certified Obstetrician-Gynecologist and medical director at Univera Healthcare.
In 2005, 14% of eligible individuals were overdue for cervical cancer screening, and by 2019, that number grew to 23%, according to the National Cancer Institute. National Institutes of Health researchers reviewed survey data from more than 20,000 individuals who were eligible to be screened and found that 10% reported a lack of access to screening, 12% said screening was never recommended by their health care provider, and 55% expressed a lack of knowledge about the importance of getting screened.
The US Preventive Services Taskforce (USPSTF) recommends screening for cervical cancer every 3 years with a Pap test for individuals ages 21 to 29. For ages 30 to 65, the USPSTF recommends screening every 3 years with a Pap test, every 5 years with human papillomavirus (hrHPV) testing for high-risk individuals, or every 5 years with both types of tests. Each type of screening can be done during a routine pelvic examination.
“Many people mistakenly believe that any examination of their pelvis includes a Pap smear,” cautions Dr. Kerney. “Only a pelvic exam that includes a Pap smear will screen for cervical cancer."
The USPSTF recommends against screening for cervical cancer in individuals who are younger than 21 years, those who have had a hysterectomy that included removal of the cervix and haven’t had a high-grade precancerous lesion or cervical cancer, or those who are older than 65 years, have had adequate screening, and aren’t at high risk for cervical cancer.
In addition to screening, the USPSTF recommends eligible individuals receive the HPV vaccine to help prevent cancer-causing infections and precancers that can lead to some types of cervical cancer.
The CDC credits the 2006 introduction of the HPV vaccine in the U.S. with the drastic reduction seen in HPV infections and cervical precancers. According to CDC disease tracking, among teen girls, the HPV infections that cause most HPV cancers and genital warts have dropped 88%, and by 81% among young adult women. Among vaccinated women, the CDC found a 40% drop in cervical precancers caused by the types of HPV that are most often linked to cervical cancer.
Dr. Kerney advises being proactive and asking your health care provider whether you are a candidate for the HPV vaccine or cervical cancer screening.
Univera Healthcare is a nonprofit health plan that serves members across the eight counties of Western New York. With more than 500 Buffalo-based employees and a local leadership team, the company is committed to attracting and retaining a diverse workforce to foster innovation and better serve its members. It also encourages employees to engage in their communities by providing paid volunteer time off as one of many benefits. Univera is part of a Rochester-based health insurer that serves more than 1.5 million members across upstate New York. Its mission is to help people live healthier and more secure lives through access to high-quality, affordable health care, and its products and services include cost-saving prescription drug discounts, wellness tracking tools and access to telemedicine. To learn more, visit UniveraHealthcare.com.