Washington can do more to prevent cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is one of the cancers that can be treated most successfully — if it’s detected early. And early detection is made possible through Pap test screening, which detects cervical cell changes and early cervical cancers before they cause symptoms.

But before detection, there is prevention. And cervical cancer can also be prevented through immunization against the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is the leading cause of cervical and anal cancers. Vaccinating adolescent girls and boys before they become sexually active can break the link and prevent the disease.

Still, in Washington, both screening and prevention efforts are below national benchmarks.

The state rate for cervical cancer screening (that is, women ages 21 to 64 who have received one or more Pap tests within the past three years) is 75 percent for those with commercial insurance. The 90th percentile national benchmark is 82 percent. For those insured by Medicaid, the rate is even lower – 69 percent are screened, while the national benchmark is 73 percent.

Room for Improvement: Results for Adult Health Screenings vs. National 90th Percentile
Results for Adult Health Screenings vs. National 90th Percentile

Credit: Washington Health Alliance.

And for preventive immunizations for cervical cancer, the rate is low, despite the promise of the vaccine to dramatically reduce the rate of HPV-associated cancers.

Room for Improvement: Results for Immunizations with Significant Variation across Counties in Washington
Results for Immunizations with Significant Variation across Counties in Washington.

Credit: Washington Health Alliance.

So how can we do better?

Understanding how much further we need to go to reach, and exceed, national benchmarks is the first step toward improved screening for cervical cancer and preventive vaccination for HPV. After all, we can’t improve what we don’t measure. Improving our rates takes the cooperation of everyone in the health care community, including patients, who may be unsure of the benefits to having these screenings and vaccines.

For providers:

  • Encourage women to get their well-woman visit this year.
  • Let women know that the health care reform law covers well-woman visits and cervical cancer screening. This means that, depending on their insurance, women can get these services at no cost to them.
  • Talk to parents about how important it is for their pre-teens to get the HPV vaccine. Both boys and girls need the vaccine.

For more information about cervical cancer and what you can do to help improve screening and immunization, visit the National Cervical Cancer Coalition website. And to learn more about how well we are doing as a state on other health screenings and immunization measures, visit the Community Checkup website.

Posted in: Community Checkup

Published: January 21, 2016

About Washington Health Alliance

The Washington Health Alliance is a place where stakeholders work collaboratively to transform Washington state’s health care system for the better. The Alliance brings together organizations that share a commitment to drive change in our health care system by offering a forum for critical conversation and aligned efforts by stakeholders: purchasers, providers, health plans, consumers and other health care partners. The Alliance believes strongly in transparency and offers trusted and credible reporting of progress on measures of health care quality and value. The Alliance is a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit with more than 185 member organizations. A cornerstone of the Alliance's work is the Community Checkup, a report to the public comparing the performance of medical groups, hospitals and health plans and offering a community-level view on important measures of health care quality (www.wacommunitycheckup.org).

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