January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and this year it is important for women to be aware of new cervical cancer screening guidelines. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Cancer Society no longer recommend that average-risk women get a Pap test every year.
According to the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer mortality rates among U.S. women decreased by almost 70 percent from 1955 to 1992 due in large part to the Pap test, which can detect disease in its early stages. Cervical cancer takes many years to develop and can be caught early enough with longer time intervals between Pap tests. Moreover, frequent screening can lead to unnecessary treatment procedures that can cause cervical damage. Therefore, the new screening guidelines from the American Cancer Society and U.S. Preventive Services Task Force for average-risk women are as follows:
- Starting at age 21, women should get a Pap test every 3 years.
- Between ages 30 and 65, a Pap test with human papillomavirus (HPV) co-testing is recommended every 5 years. This is the preferred approach, but it is acceptable to have a Pap test alone every 3 years.
- Women over age 65 who have had regular screening with normal results should not be screened for cervical cancer. Women over age 65 who have been diagnosed with cervical pre-cancer should continue to be screened.
- Women who have had their uterus and cervix removed in a hysterectomy and have no history of cervical cancer or pre-cancer should not be screened.
- Women should discuss their risk factors with their physician.
According to the CDC, almost all cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. HPV vaccines are now available that prevent the two HPV strains most likely to cause cervical cancer. Not all cervical cancer is prevented by the HPV vaccine; therefore, women are still recommended to get Pap tests.
The KDHE Early Detection Works (EDW) program provides breast and cervical cancer screenings for eligible women at no cost.
Eligible women are Kansas residents ages 40 to 64, without health insurance, who meet income guidelines. Women can enroll for these free screenings by calling toll-free 1-877-277-1368. Limited state funds are available for women under 40 who are experiencing breast or cervical problems. EDW pays for many diagnostic follow-up tests with free or affordable treatment available to women diagnosed with cancer while participating in the program.