Cervical Cancer Awareness Month Highlights Importance of Prevention, Early Detection

January 30, 2018

Four decades ago, cervical cancer was the most common cancer among women, but the prevalence in the United States has decreased over recent decades due to increased prevention efforts and pharmaceutical advances.  January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, which is a time to remind women about the hugely important role that screenings play in preventing this highly preventable cancer. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pap smear screenings are an effective prevention and early detection tool while the now common vaccine for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is also a key prevention method. 

“Screening for cervical cancer is extremely important and key in prevention of cervical cancer. A pap smear, provided it is normal, should be done every three years in a women’s 20’s starting at the age of 21, and every five years, provide the pap smear is normal and HPV is negative in all women 30-65 years old,” said Dr. Katy Wessel, a family practice/obstetrics physician at St. Peter’s Health Medical Group – North Clinic.  It is recommended that all women receive regular check-ups and consult with their provider to determine what screening interval is right for them. 

The CDC has released the following guidelines to help women understand what they can do to help prevent cervical cancer:

· Get the HPV vaccine that protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers. It is recommended for both boys and girls aged 11-12, but can be given as early as 9 and until 26 years of age.

· Women should have regular pap smears starting at the age of 21. Women who are under 21 and sexually active should receive annual exams. 

· If screening results are normal, your physician may recommend you receive your next screening in three years. If you are over the age of 30 and you have a normal screening, your physician may tell you that you can wait five years if you are HPV negative. 

· If you are between 21 and 65, it is important to continue receiving screening at the direction of your physician even if you think you are too old to have a child or are not sexually active.

· Even if you are vaccinated against HPV, you still need to get screened.

Due to the high preventability of cervical cancer, St. Peter’s Health Medical Group has launched an initiative to increase cervical cancer screening rates among patients.  According to Dr. Todd Wampler, St. Peter’s Health Medical Director of Primary Care Services, “we have set an ambitious goal to ensure more of our patients who are due for a screening receive the screening. We have made significant progress on our goal, and this is largely due to our participation in the innovative Comprehensive Care Plus program.  Before the program started, we were meeting the national standard, but that was not good enough.  Since then, we have achieved rates better than 90% of clinics across the country.  And we’re not done yet.” 

Comprehensive Care Plus is a pilot program funded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that employs a team-based care approach to improve access to care and focuses on preventative medicine. According to Wampler, “on the ground, it means a team of care providers is reviewing the screenings that a patient may need at every single visit, not just at their annual wellness check-ups. The team then identifies their need for a follow up screening appointment with their primary care provider, family medicine provider or OB/GYN.” 

St. Peter’s Health

St. Peter’s Health is a system of health care services including a 123-bed acute care hospital, physician clinics, cancer treatment center, behavioral health unit, urgent care clinics, home health and hospice care, dialysis center and ambulance services. St. Peter’s Health serves the Helena region and southwest Montana counties of Lewis and Clark, Broadwater, Jefferson, Meagher and Powell, with a combined population of approximately 97,000 residents. The mission of St. Peter’s Health is to partner with patients and the community to provide exceptional and compassionate health care. For more information, visit sphealth.org.