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January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, which is aimed at encouraging women across the country to get screened for cervical cancer and, if eligible, receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. Every year, an estimated 12,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer. While all women are at risk for cervical cancer, it occurs most often in women over the age of 30. Luckily, it is highly preventable and treatable due to improved screenings and testing—especially when detected early.

To help continue smearing awareness about cervical cancer, let’s chat and chew about important tests and prevention tips.

SCREENING TESTS

Early detection greatly improves the chances of successful treatment and prevents any early cervical cell changes from becoming cancerous. You can lower your risk of getting cervical cancer by not smoking, using protection during intercourse, and limiting your number of sexual partners; however, the best way to detect cervical cancer early is to have regular screening tests, such as:

  • HPV Vaccine: Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of more than 150 related viruses. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), according to the CDC. It is transmitted through close skin-to-skin contact, most commonly during intercourse with someone who has the virus. It is recommended that both boys and girls get all three doses of the HPV vaccine between the ages of 11-12 years old.
  • Pap Test (or Pap smear): Until the 1940’s—when Dr. George Papanicolaou introduced the Pap test—cervical cancer was the number one cause of death for women. The Pap test, which collects cells from the cervix and analyzes them under a microscope, has succeeded in reducing the death rate from cervical cancer by more than 50 percent.

Recently, new cervical cancer screening guidelines were released by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American Cancer Society (ACS). One thing to note is that these new recommendations apply to healthy women; they do not pertain to women who have unusual symptoms, an unusual Pap smear, or a history of dysplasia, cervical cancer, H.I.V., or other related illness. 

The newest reports are now recommending the following:

  • Women ages 21-29 should be screened with a Pap test every 3 years;
  • Women ages 30-65 can be screened every 3 years with just a Pap test, or every 5 years with Pap / HPV co-testing.

Despite these changes, Compass Rose Health Plan members—particularly adult women—who are at a higher risk for cervical cancer, or simply wish to get tested more often than every 3-5 years, are covered at 100% for their annual Pap smear and cervical cancer screening. See the 2016 FEHB Plan Brochure (page 29) for more information.

Sources:
American Cancer Society;
The American Cancer Society guidelines for the prevention and early detection of cervical cancer.
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