January is cervical cancer awareness month, and the National Cervical Cancer Coalition encourages women to make a New Year’s resolution to have a Pap test.
Over 11,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year, and 4,000 will die from the disease. This is tragic, because cervical cancer need not be fatal and the Pap test can detect pre-cancerous changes which can be monitored and treated.
The Pap test consists of taking a sample of cells from the cervix using a small brush and examining them under a microscope. The test is recommended for women ages 21-65. The frequency of testing can vary from 6 months if cellular changes are noted, to 3 years for women with a history of normal Pap tests. Genotyping for human papilloma virus (HPV) can potentially lengthen the interval to 5 years for women over 30.
HPV is a common virus with which most people are infected. Over 100 strains have been identified. Some are benign and cause common warts or plantar warts; others cause genital warts and cervical cancer. HPV 16 and 18 are considered high risk because they cause about 70% of cervical cancers. HPV 6 and 11 cause approximately 90% of genital warts, but are considered low risk since they rarely develop into cancer.
The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) mandated that health insurance plans cover an annual well woman exam with preventive screening tests such as the Pap smear and HPV genotyping, so take advantage of this benefit if you are insured.
Optimal Health Center has partnered with the Tracy Lane Foundation to provide Pap tests to all women, regardless of insurance status, at no cost to the patient. The foundation also works with Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine, which treats people without insurance.
Tracy Lane was a local resident and golf pro who died of cervical cancer. Before her passing, she established a foundation to spread awareness regarding cervical cancer and to ensure women know that it is preventable through having regular check-ups, practicing safe sex and living a healthy lifestyle.
Be sure to get tested yourself, and spread the word to other women about this valuable resource in our community.
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Dr. Jessica Needle is a naturopathic doctor practicing at Optimal Health Center in Palm Desert and can be reached at (760) 568.2598.