The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) and the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC)
recognize January as Cervical Health Awareness Month and urge every woman to make a New Year’s resolution to talk to their healthcare provider about preventing cervical cancer.
Each year in the United States, more than 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and more than 4,000 die as a result. Cervical cancer is a profound health equity issue: in both the United States and abroad, the disease is linked strongly with poverty and lack of access to medical care, a fact all the more frustrating because screening tests (Pap tests and, when appropriate, HPV tests) and vaccines exist that give us the capacity to essentially eliminate the disease.
Access to these lifesaving tools is crucial, but programs are in place to help, said ASHA/NCCC President Lynn Barclay.
“Provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) require insurance plans to
cover cervical cancer screening tests at zero cost to women,” she said.
HPV vaccines, which are available for both males and females, are covered by the vast majority of health insurance plans. Additionally, the Vaccines for Children program provides vaccines for eligible children through age 18, including the uninsured, under-insured, Native Americans and Alaska Natives.
Providing access to medical care is only part of the job, though, Barclay said. Much work remains to be done with educating both the public and health professionals alike. It’s important, she said, for people to have ongoing sexual health conversations with their healthcare team, partner and kids. But these talks often get sidetracked.
“Regardless of the exact topic, sexual health conversations are usually rushed through or avoided altogether,” she said. “We’re often just too embarrassed to even begin these talks, much less have them effectively.”
One place to start is with ASHA’s guide, “Ten Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Provider about Sexual Health.”
At its extreme, Barclay said, people’s lack of comfort with these topics can result in women avoiding gynecologic care due to a sense of shame.
“There’s no single, simple solution to ending cervical cancer, but it’s clear it involves more than just quality health care. When it comes to sexual and reproductive health, we should be comfortable in our own skin, and have the confidence to seek the care and support we need.”
Mesa County Health Department’s Clinic offers family planning services including annual exams, Pap tests, birth control and STI testing. Call 970-248-6900 for an appointment, or visit health.mesacounty.us/clinics for more information.