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Cervical cancer screenings save lives

In New York state, 20 percent of individuals who are eligible for cervical cancer screening are not following the screening guidelines, despite the evidence that screening saves lives.

A review of data by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield found that since 1976, the number of cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in New York state has decreased nearly 40 percent, and the number of deaths from cervical cancer decreased by 50 percent. A major factor in the decrease of cases and deaths in the state can be attributed to the high cervical cancer screening rate of 80 percent. When diagnosed early, cervical cancer is treatable and often curable.

“Cervical cancer typically has no signs or symptoms in the early stages, so following the screening guidelines is very important as routine screening can identify changes in the cervix early, when treatment is most effective,” says Angel L. Kerney, M.D., a board-certified Obstetrician-Gynecologist (OB-GYN) and Medical Director at Excellus BCBS.

There are two screening tests which help in the early detection of cervical cancer: The Pap Smear and High Risk Human Papillomavirus testing (HR-HPV). The high-risk types of the Human Papillomavirus are responsible for causing most cases of cervical cancer. Both screening tests can be done during a routine pelvic examination.

“Many people mistakenly believe that any examination of their pelvis includes a Pap smear,” cautions Dr. Kerney. “Only a pelvic exam that includes a Pap smear will screen for cervical cancer.”

According to the American Cancer Society, most cases of cervical cancers are found in individuals who have never had a Pap smear or who have not had one recently.

In the Rochester region, 77 percent of eligible individuals aged 21-65 have been screened for cervical cancer.

Screening rates by county: 

  • Livingston  91.6
  • Monroe  81.0
  • Ontario  81.9
  • Seneca  75.7
  • Wayne  81.8
  • Yates  47.5

Source:  NYS, BRFSS 4/2019

The US Preventive Services Taskforce has the following recommendations for individuals who have a cervix and are of average risk:

  • Cervical cancer screening should start at 21 years of age.
  • Ages 21 to 29 years should have a Pap test every three years.
  • Ages 30 to 65 have three options:
    • Pap smear alone every three years OR
    • Pap smear PLUS HR-HPV testing every five years OR
    • HR-HPV testing alone every five years

In general, women older than age 65 don’t need Pap testing if: their previous pap smears were negative and they have had three Pap smears, or two combined Pap PLUS HPV tests, in the preceding 10 years.

“The dramatic decline in cervical cancer diagnoses and deaths over the past fifty years is directly tied to our 80 percent screening rate,” says Dr. Kerney. “Cervical cancer screening saves lives, so consult your physician or health care provider if you have questions about your need to be screened.”