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January is Cervical Health Awareness Month 

Written by on January 17, 2023

Sonya See, Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner at Scotland County Hospital and Clinics in Memphis, wants to remind people that January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. She says there are several ways to screen for that type of cancer and ways to protect against cervical cancer.

The main cause of cervical cancer is a long-lasting infection with certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during intercourse. At least half of sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives, however few women will get cervical cancer. Every year about 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,000 women die from this disease in the US.

The HPV vaccine (Gardisil) is an important way to help protect against the HPV strains that most commonly cause cancer. This HPV vaccination protects you from the 9 higher risk strains that are most likely to cause cervical cancer. Gardisil is recommended starting at the age of 9 through the age of 45 for both men and women. If you get the vaccine prior to the age of 14, it is only a 2 shot series. If you start after the age of 14, it is a recommended three shot series. Having the HPV vaccine does not take the place of the recommended cervical screenings.

A cervical cancer screening in women is most commonly referred to as a PAP smear. The PAP smear is used to find changes in the cells of the cervix that could lead to cancer. Girls under the age of 21 are not recommended to have PAP smears regardless of sexual activity. Females ages 21-29 are recommended to have a PAP smear every three years unless they have had a history of an abnormal PAP. For women age 30-65, it is recommended that they have co-testing which would be PAP smears along with HPV screening. If this is done and both tests are negative, you can go 5 years between cervical screenings. If you are 65 and older and have never had an abnormal PAP and have had a PAP smear within 5 years of turning 65, you no longer need cervical cancer screenings. If you have had a hysterectomy, NOT due to cancer, then you no longer need to have PAP smears.

IF YOU HAVE EVER HAD AN ABNORMAL PAP, THESE GUIDELINES DO NOT PERTAIN TO YOU! YOU SHOULD HAVE A PAP EVERY YEAR IF YOU HAVE EVER HAD AN ABNORMAL PAP. Also, even if you don’t need a PAP smear, it is a great idea to still schedule an annual wellness exam at all ages.

If you are a female age 35-65 and you are uninsured or under-insured, you may qualify for the Show-Me Healthy Women Program. Show Me Healthy Women (SMHW) began in 1992, and is Missouri’s implementation of the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. It provides free clinical breast exams, cervical cancer screenings and mammograms for women in Missouri who meet the age, income and insurance criteria. SMHW is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and several national, regional and local partner organizations. You are invited to call and inquire about this program, as Memphis Medical Services (MMS) is a SMHW provider. You are asked to encourage your friends and family, as well, to inquire as it is an excellent program if you are in need of preventative care and are uninsured or underinsured.

To be eligible for SMHW services, women must meet all of the following guidelines:

              *Income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level for household income, and

              *Age be age 35-64, or older if they do not receive Medicare Part B, and

              * No insurance to cover program services

Talk to your primary care provider about a cervical cancer screening or call MMS at 660-465-2828 to discuss your options for cervical cancer screening and/or any questions you might have about the Show-Me Healthy Women initiative or your need for a wellness exam.