By Marcela Vargas, Project Coordinator, Institute for Hispanic Health, NCLR
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. It is particularly important to us here at NCLR because of the impact it has on the Latina community. In 2011, Latina women had the highest rate of cervical cancer out of all racial and ethnic groups. In the same year, Latinas had the second-highest death rate due to cervical cancer out of the same groups. The sad reality about these rates is that they could very easily decrease if we took more time to worry about preventive health. With that in mind, here are three things you should know about cervical cancer:
- All women can get cervical cancer. While all women are at risk for cervical cancer, certain factors can increase the chances of getting the disease. Having HIV or a condition that weakens the immune system puts you at higher risk for getting cervical cancer. In addition, smoking or having used birth control pills for at least five years also increase the risk. Lastly, women who have given birth to three or more children are more likely to develop cervical cancer.
- Cervical cancer does not always cause symptoms. Many times, we do not think to go to the doctor until we are not feeling well. In the case of cervical cancer, we cannot take this risk. It often does not cause any symptoms. In the rare cases that it does, symptoms do not occur until the disease is in its advanced stages.
- There are ways to prevent cervical cancer. There are several ways to protect yourself. Regular Pap tests help catch cervical cancer when treatment is still simple. It is also important to follow up with your health care provider if your Pap test results come back abnormal. Using condoms during sexual activity and not smoking will also help protect you from cervical cancer.
The good news about all of this is that there are resources for women to get themselves screened. In 2015, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, Pap tests are covered by insurance companies at no cost to you. If you still do not have insurance, the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program provides access to cervical cancer screening services.