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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On cervical cancer prevention

Rachel Bates

Staff Writer

Each year about 12,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer and about 4,000 American women die from the disease. While this number has decreased over the last few decades, it should be drastically lower because cervical cancer is easily treated and prevented.

Pap smears detect precancerous lesions and early cancer. Precancerous lesions can be removed in a minimally invasive procedure before they turn into cancer. Since 2006, there has also been a vaccine against human papillomavirus, or HPV, the sexually transmitted virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer.

However, many women do not have easy access to these preventive treatments. As Robert Hilgers, a gynecologic oncologist in Kentucky, said, “In most cases, women who get cervical cancer in this country are those who did not get a Pap smear.”

He also says that cervical cancer is highly correlated with poverty and lack of insurance. For example, in the Appalachian region of Kentucky where the poverty rate was 24.5% in 2005-2009, compared with the national rate of 13.5%, women get cervical cancer at a rate that is one-third higher than the national rate, and they die at a rate that is 37% higher. Doctors believe that income disparity, and the resulting disparity in access to health insurance and health care, contribute to this higher death rate.

Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act should help decrease this disparity. Dr. Krishnan, a gynecologist in New York, said, “We hope that… providing coverage for millions more will reduce the number of cervical cancer cases in this country.” With greater access to preventive care, such as Pap smears, women will be better protected against cervical cancer. Click here to read about Tamika Felder’s battle with cervical cancer and how cervical cancer can be prevented.

With Mother’s Day approaching, we are all reminded of the importance of our mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends. It is great to know that Affordable Care Act helps protect them from cervical cancer and other diseases by providing access to preventive care that saves lives!