Close to 8 million women aged 21-65 years were not screened for cervical cancer in the past 5 years even though the disease claims nearly 4,000 lives per year, according to 2012 data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
In its November Vital Signs report, the CDC stated that it is committed to providing Americans with easier and more affordable access to screening and treatment options for human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer, reiterating that 93% of cervical cancers can be prevented with early screening and HPV vaccination.
“We know that cervical cancer screening works,” Dr. Ileana Arias, CDC deputy principal director, said during a telebriefing on Nov. 5. With new resources and increased awareness, “we can reach and actually go beyond the 2020 Health People Objective,” she said.
The Healthy People objective, a federal program designed to promote healthy living and disease prevention with specific goals, aims to reduce the number of invasive uterine cervical cancer cases from 7.9 per 100,000 females to 7.1 per 100,000 females, while increasing the average female screening percentage from 84.5% to 93.0%.
Dr. Arias explained that the Affordable Care Act will help eliminate some of the “financial barriers” that prevent girls and women from getting screened, which should be done every 3 years, and said that the ACA should cover preventative screening for no cost under most plans. The CDC points to a lack of health insurance as being a leading cause for nonscreening, as one out of every four women without insurance did not get screened in the last 5 years.
Other factors inhibiting more widespread HPV and cervical cancer screening include lack of awareness, knowledge, and transportation in rural and “lower resource” areas of the United States, as well as cultural beliefs. The American South continues to have the highest rates of cervical cancer incidence and death, while overall death rates across the country have remained stagnant from 2007 to 2011, making it difficult for the CDC to reach its 2020 Healthy People Objective.
The CDC recommends that all adolescents receive the HPV vaccine at around 11-12 years of age, although Dr. Arias pointed out that the vaccine could be administered to girls as young as 9 years and women as old as 26. According to CDC statistics, one out of every three girls and one out of every seven boys receive the vaccine.
“We continue to miss opportunities to screen for cervical cancers,” admitted Dr. Arias, calling on primary care providers and community outreach centers to advocate for screenings and make resources available to women and adolescents across the country.
The November Vital Signs report can be found in its entirety on the CDC website.