For many, the beginning of the year often brings with it resolutions and new health goals. While everyone’s wellness journeys will look different, ensuring the completion of annual health screenings should be at the top of everyone’s priority list.
Each month of the year offers new opportunity to focus on a particular aspect of wellness as we recognize different awareness months. For January, that’s cervical cancer, the most common cause of cancer death for women in the United States. More than 14,000 cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed in 2021, according to the American Cancer Society. Regular screenings can help detect cancer in its earliest stages, when it’s most treatable.
The five-year survival rate for cervical cancer patients is 66 percent, but in the Appalachian region of Kentucky, the mortality rate is 17 percent higher than the national rate, according to research from the University of Kentucky. More women in this rural part of the state are less likely to be screened, which elevates the incidence (67% higher than the national rate) and mortality rates (33% higher than the national rate) of invasive cervical cancer.
Through regular screening, including a Pap test, your physician will check for abnormal or pre-cancerous cells and the human papillomavirus (HPV), which have the potential to become cervical cancer if left untreated. Those most at risk for developing cervical cancer include patients with high-risk HPV strands, those who smoke, those who have weakened immune systems, and those exposed to high-risk sexual behavior or sexual infections.
Family history and exposure to the hormonal drug Diethylstilbestrol (DES) in the mid-1990s can also influence the development of cervical cancer. Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer include blood spots or light bleeding between periods, bleeding after menopause, unexplained back or pelvic pain, pelvic pain during sexual intercourse, and unusual vaginal discharge; however, it is also typical for early cervical cancers and pre-cancers to exist without symptoms, making the need for regular screenings even more important.
Current recommendations for cervical cancer screening are every three years for women with average risk starting at age 21. This preventive screening is covered through most health insurance plans. For women who are uninsured, the Saint Joseph Hospital Foundation’s newest program, Yes, Cerv! provides cervical cancer screenings and treatment at no cost to eligible patients across the hospitals, physician practices and clinics, and clinically integrated network of providers within CHI Saint Joseph Health.
The program launched in 2021 through CHI Saint Joseph Health Foundations with the help of CHI Saint Joseph Health Partners, a clinical network of nearly 700 providers across Kentucky. Funding for the program was provided by the Kentucky Women’s Cancer Screening Program, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Breast and Cervical Early Detection Program.
At CHI Saint Joseph Health, we believe timely screening can mean the difference between early detection and a potential late-stage diagnosis. Our goal is to ensure every woman in the communities we serve has access to cervical cancer screening. To help women navigate the program, we have teamed up with Kentucky CancerLink, which also works to eliminate barriers to cancer screenings. Women can call 1-877-597-4655 to see if they qualify for the Yes, Cerv! program and to schedule an appointment.
Teresa Colon, RN, is the Yes Mamm! and Yes Cerv! Program Coordinator at CHI Saint Joseph Health Partners.