Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

Dr. Ginny Barton, with Tennova Healthcare - Harton, prepares Tuesday to perform a Pap smear test, a quick and easy procedure that can detect cases of cervical cancer. With January being Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, medical professionals urge women to contact their health care provider and ask about routine screenings for cervical cancer.

With January being Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, local medical professionals and the Tennessee Department of Health urge women to contact their health care provider and ask about routine screening for cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer can be prevented with recommended vaccinations and regular screenings. Women between 21 and 65 years of age should get periodic screenings for cervical cancer and talk with their health care providers about ways to prevent and reduce the risk of cervical cancer, according to the health department.


Early detection saves lives

Dr. Ginny Barton, with Tennova Healthcare – Harton, said detecting cervical cancer early is essential.

A Pap smear is a quick and easy screening procedure that can be completed at a doctor’s office to detect cases of cervical cancer, said Barton.

“The good thing about doing routine Pap smears is that, if there is an abnormality, we detect it at a pre-cancerous stage, at which stage we can do more conservative options [for treatment],” Barton said.

At early stages, doctors can treat cervical cancer with procedures, such as LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure) or cone biopsy, which are less invasive compared with chemotherapy and radiation, said Barton.

“Some of the more advanced cases of cervical cancer can actually become too advanced to be treated surgically, and that’s when [patients] have to do chemo, radiation and more invasive things,” Barton said. “And the [cancer] can progress very quickly.”

Since the screening became a routine procedure about 30 years ago, the number of cervical cancer cases has decreased, said Barton.

“It’s been pretty routine over the last 30 years, and since that time, the number of cervical cancer [cases] has been cut in half,” Barton said.

“About 50 percent of cervical cancer cases happen in women who have never had a Pap smear, and another 10 percent of them are women who haven’t had a Pap smear in at least the last five years.”


Partners for Healing

Michelle Carmack, executive director for Partners for Healing, also stresses the importance of regular cancer screenings.

Partners for Healing is a nonprofit clinic that offers free primary care for the working uninsured in Coffee, Franklin and Moore counties.

“Every year, cancer claims the lives of more than half a million Americans, including 14,172 that live here in Tennessee,” Carmack said. “Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, exceeded only by heart disease.”

The Women’s Health Initiative at Partners for Healing provides primary care and education specific to women, including Pap smears, breast exams, mammograms, blood pressure readings, cholesterol tests and mental health, said Carmack.

“A key goal of the program is to increase education about screening guidelines, breast self-awareness, early detection services, heart health, and the importance of preventative self-care,” Carmack said.

Partners for Healing has teamed up with the Tennessee Department of Health on its Breast and Cervical Screening Program to urge all women to get routine screenings for breast and cervical cancer.

“This partnership provides our clinic with access to help more women by providing early detection, screening and referral services for breast and cervical cancers,” Carmack said. “Together, our mission is to prevent unnecessary disease, disability and premature death due to cancer of the breast and/or cervix. The primary key to reducing illness and death from these cancers is early detection and timely follow-up and treatment.

“Routine screenings can detect many cancers at an early stage when more treatment options are available and likelihood of survival is improved.”

Partners for Healing provides screening and diagnostic testing to qualified uninsured women.

For more information about Partners for Healing, call 931-455-5014, ext.103.


Preventing cancer

In 2015, there were 288 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in Tennessee, and 112 women died of the disease. Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a common infection and is the single-greatest risk for cervical cancer and some cancers of the mouth, throat and pharynx. Approximately 79 million Americans currently have HPV, but most don’t know they are infected.

The virus is so common that more than half of all sexually active people will be infected by one or more strains of HPV in their lifetime, according to the health department.


A vaccine preventing cancer

The HPV vaccine can prevent infection with the HPV virus and prevent cervical cancer. HPV vaccination is provided as a two- or three-dose series. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccination for both males and females between the ages of 11 and 12. However, the vaccination can be given from age 9 to 26 in both males and females.

The HPV vaccination is very safe and highly effective, and is available from many health care providers and at local health departments.

For more information about the benefits of getting vaccinated and to learn about cervical cancer and HPV-related cancers, visit www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/index.htm.


Screening and testing for women

Vaccination, screening and early diagnosis are the best ways to prevent cervical cancer, according to the health department.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends a Pap smear screening for cervical cancer and testing for HPV every three to five years for women ages 21 through 65.

The screening options vary within this age range, according to Lauren Bauer with USPSTF. 

For women ages 21 to 29, the USPSTF recommends screening every three years with a Pap test alone, said Bauer.

Women ages 30 to 65 have three options: every three years with a Pap test alone, every five years with HPV testing alone, or every five years with HPV testing in combination with a Pap test, said Bauer. 

The Tennessee Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program provides screening and diagnostic testing to qualified uninsured and underinsured Tennessee women.

For more information on the TBCSP including eligibility requirements, call 615-532-8383 or visit www.tn.gov/health/health-program-areas/fhw/mch-cancer.html.

Elena Cawley may be reached via email at ecawley@tullahomanews.com.