Pap Screens and HPV Vaccine Could Eliminate Cervical Cancer in Vermont

For Immediate Release: January 11, 2008
Media Contact: Communication Office
Vermont Department of Health

BURLINGTON – Despite the fact that cervical cancer is preventable if found early, each year in Vermont nearly 30 women are diagnosed with it, and approximately 9 will die from the disease.

During January, Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, the Vermont Department of Health is encouraging women to undergo an annual Pap test.

The primary cause of cervical cancer is the human papilloma virus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. While both men and women are infected with HPV, most people with HPV can't tell they have it. For women, a Pap test is the only way to detect changes in the cervix caused by HPV before cervical cancer develops.

“Most cervical cancers develop over a period of many months to years, and abnormal cervical tissue can be detected easily by a Pap test and then removed by a health care provider before the tissue develops into cancer,” said Health Commissioner Sharon Moffatt, RN, MSN. “Since the Pap test was introduced more than 60 years ago, the number of cervical cancer deaths have decreased by as much as 74 percent.”

Women must be screened regularly and consistently throughout their lives. In Vermont, more than 80 percent of adult women report having a Pap test in the past three years. Women who do not get screened regularly are older than 65, have no insurance coverage and no regular provider of healthcare, and tend to have less education.

The Health Department is also encouraging young girls and women to be immunized with HPV vaccine.

The HPV vaccine is approved for ages 9-26, recommended for girls age 11-12, and is covered by most insurance plans, including Medicaid for women ages 19-26. Through a combination of federal and state funds, which pays for the purchase of the HPV vaccine, girls 9-18 can get the HPV shot through their primary care provider.

The Vermont State Cancer Plan includes a goal to increase regular screening for cervical cancer, and Vermonters Taking Action Against Cancer and the Department of Health have convened a work group to develop new strategies to achieve this goal.

The Health Department’s Ladies First Program already pays for Pap tests and mammograms for eligible Vermont women with limited incomes at health care provider sites throughout the state.

Women ages 40 to 64 who are uninsured or underinsured and whose incomes are at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level may be eligible to obtain free Pap tests through the Ladies First Program at the Vermont Department of Health by calling 1-800-508-2222. Ladies First also pays for follow up testing for all women who qualify and can help women sign up for Medicaid if treatment is needed.

HPV vaccine is a promising advance in prevention of cervical cancer. The vaccine can protect against the two of the strains of HPV (human papilloma virus) that cause the majority of cervical cancers later in life.

“Even with HPV vaccines available, women of all ages, income levels and cultural groups must continue to have annual pelvic exams and regular Pap tests, even after age 65, to ensure their best health,” Commissioner Moffatt said.

Nationally, between 50 and 60 percent of women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer have not had a Pap test during the past five years. Designated as “rarely or never” screened, these groups include women living in rural communities, foreign-born women living in the U.S. less than 10 years, minorities, women without health insurance and/or a regular primary care provider, and women with less than a high school education.

If the Pap test is abnormal, additional diagnostic procedures may be done to determine whether the changes in the cervical tissue might be the beginning of cervical cancer.

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