Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers in the world.
Starting in the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina — the cancer occurs when abnormal cells there grow out of control. The most common cause of cervical cancer is human papilloma virus, or HPV infection. HPV is spread through sexual contact with someone who is infected with the virus. While HPV is common, there is a three-dose vaccine available to protect against it. Although women often do not recognize symptoms of cervical cancer, it can be detected through regular Papanicolaou tests (“Pap smears”), and when found early enough, can be successfully treated. Although this is a preventable disease, it still kills 300,000 women in the world each year (http://publichealth.lacounty.gov).
One of the reasons for the prevalence of a preventable disease like cervical cancer is unequal access to screening and preventive care for low-income women and women of color. The Cervical Cancer Prevention and Education Initiative, or CCPEI (http://publichealth.lacounty.gov) is a Los Angeles-based outreach program whose mission is to increase awareness about cervical cancer. It was founded to address the fact that nearly twice as many women of color develop cervical cancer compared to white women. According to their website, the CCPEI also increased the number of screenings and treatment services provided to women who are at high risk of cancer, a campaign that resulted in the distribution of more than 750,000 educational items, 17,747 appointments for screenings, as well as treatment options and opportunities for women with abnormal results.
Prevention International: No Cervical Cancer (PINCC) is also dedicated to creating cervical cancer prevention programs, educating women, training medical personnel, and providing facilities in developing countries. PINCC, a non-profit volunteer medical service organization that creates sustainable cervical cancer screening programs, aims to increase the survival rate for women in Africa, India, and Latin America. More than 1,450 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer everyday in these places, and half of these women will not survive because they do not receive screening and treatment.
To help raise awareness, PINCC outlined their four main goals on their website:
1. To improve the health of women in under-resourced countries by providing sensitive, culturally competent education, screening, and treatment to prevent cervical cancer.
2. To train health care workers in the host countries to become proficient in screening and treatment, and to create sustainable programs by donating the needed equipment.
3. To promote awareness, influence public health policy, and aid government and educational institutions to implement and sustain practical, medically sound, and economically viable methods of cervical cancer prevention.
4. To raise visibility, build support, and generate the resources necessary to continue and expand this program around the world.
Both CCPEI and PINCC are valuable resources for fighting this preventable disease through awareness, education, screening and treatment. The public health field is dedicated to fighting for the equality and accessibility of health care. Every woman should have access to Pap tests that can detect cervical cancer early, while treatment is still effective. Issues that stand in the way of women receiving these tests are lack of education, awareness about their importance, and inequalities in access to health care. Six out of the 10 Mills women interviewed for this article said that they could not afford pelvic exams, Pap tests, and cervical cancer screenings. Seven of the
10 women said that they were completely unaware that these tests were important at all. When more than half of these women were unaware of the prevalence of this disease and the importance of screening, it seems clear that there is much more work to be done to get the word out. In order to maintain good cervical health, one should get an HPV vaccine, have regular pap tests, and, if sexually active, practice safe sex.
Health Matters is a column written by the second-year nursing students participating in the Nursing Leadership Class.