Latinas have the highest incidence of cervical cancer in the U.S., so Planned Parenthood is making a special effort to encourage Latinas to protect their cervical health during January's Cervical Health Awareness Month. Cervical cancer is preventable and proper screening is key to early detection.
Planned Parenthood, the nation's leading women's health care provider and advocate, provided 770,000 Pap tests in 2010. Regular Pap tests are one of the most effective ways to detect cervical cancer early. Every year, approximately 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and about 4,000 American women die of the disease. If detected early, the five-year survival rate for cervical cancer is almost 100 percent. The human papillomavirus, or HPV, leads to cervical cancer. Combined, Planned Parenthood provided more than 100,000 HPV vaccinations and tests in 2010.
"Women need to know that cervical cancer is an almost entirely preventable disease. Getting vaccinated for HPV can help prevent cervical cancer, and knowing when to get screened with Pap tests can help detect it," said Dr. Vanessa Cullins, vice president for external medical affairs for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "The guidelines for how often women need to be screened have changed, and most women need less frequent screening for cervical cancer. However, when it is time for a screening visit, that visit should be a priority, as should interim visits to a health care provider for other, preventive, reproductive health care and family planning services."
In 2012 several health advisory groups and medical professional organizations reviewed years of data and updated their recommendations on how often women should be screened for cervical cancer. Planned Parenthood's updated guidelines reflect those recommendations and call for Pap screening to begin at age 21, and for most women to be screened every three years up to age 29. For women aged 30 to 64, most should have routine screenings performed every three years using Pap testing or every five years using combined Pap and HPV testing.
Planned Parenthood noted that screening for cervical cancer is essential during most of a woman's adult life, even if she is not engaging in sexual activity or if her partner is a woman. Women should go to a health care provider to get regular Pap tests and HPV screenings, even if they are not seeing a provider for prescription contraception.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends HPV vaccination for girls aged 11 to 12. In order to be most effective, HPV vaccination needs to occur prior to the start of sexual intimacy.
As a part of the effort to raise awareness and prevent cervical cancer, Planned Parenthood is offering resources that can help women take charge of their cervical health. They include an updated webpage that provides a one-stop shop for what women need to know about cervical cancer, and a new infographic that details the cervical-cancer-prevention steps that women and their daughters should take at different periods of their lives. The resources also highlight the recent changes in the recommendations for how often women should be screened for cervical cancer.