January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, which focuses on issues relating to cervical cancer, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), and the importance of early detection. It’s also an ideal time to educate women about the importance of getting screened for cervical cancer/HPV.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality currently recommends that women “have a Pap smear every 1 to 3 years if you are 21 to 65 years old and have been sexually active. If you are older than 65 and recent Pap smears were normal, you do not need a Pap smear. If you have had a hysterectomy for a reason other than cancer, you do not need a Pap smear.”
Routine administration of Pap tests is the most common method of detecting cervical cancer early, although HPV tests are gaining popularity as well since they are able to detect high-risk HPV strains that could go on to become cancerous. Additionally, recently developed vaccines have the potential to protect women from the disease by targeting cancer-causing types of HPV. HPV is the only known cause of cervical cancer, and two types of the virus, HPV 16 and HPV 18, account for over 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases.
If you have health insurance, a routine Pap smear should be covered by your preventive care benefits. If you don’t have health insurance, the National Cervical Cancer Coalition provides this list of free and low-cost Pap test resources in the United States. Just look up your state on the list, and you will see a number to call (and in some cases, a website to look at) to find out if you qualify for a free or low-cost Pap test. You can also get more information about cervical cancer, HPV and Cervical Health Awareness Month by visiting the National Cervical Cancer Coalition’s website.