More than 12,000 women a year get cervical cancer, yet up to 93% of these cancers are preventable. The Centers for Disease Control reports that up to 8 million American women have not been screened for cervical cancer in the last 5 years, which is approximately 10% of all women who are at risk for the disease. The Papanicoolaou (Pap) test screens for abnormal cells and is a time tested screening method for detecting cervical carcinoma. More recently, testing for HPV infection to identify women at high risk for the disease has also been added to the screening and detection process. HPV vaccination is also another important part of the cervical cancer reduction public health program; however, vaccination does not prevent against all cervical cancers, and screening is critical to early diagnosis.
Cervical cancer is an insidious disease that kills 4,000 American women a year. Doctors and nurses need to discuss cervical cancer prevention at every visit. Women also need to be proactive and accept the need for screening. It is important that women get their screening results timely and that follow up care is sought and provided. Physicians offices should use automated communication and recall systems to make sure that lapses in screening to do not occur. Preteens and teens should be vaccinated against HPV, but vaccination does not preclude the need for on-going screening.
Currently, more than 50% of all new cervical cancers are in women who have never been screened or have not been screened for the last 5 years of their lives. Of women who have not been screened, 70% have a regular doctor and health insurance. Physicians, health insurers, nurse care managers and women all need to take responsibility for cervical cancer care and compliance with screening guidelines.
With our knowledge of the disease and the available prevention and screening programs, no woman should die of cervical carcinoma.