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
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
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.
- 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.
Published: January 21, 2016