At one time, cervical cancer was the leading cause of cancer death in women. Now it is one of the most preventable and, if found early, successfully treated cancers.
Cervical cancer deaths in the U.S. have declined more than 50 percent over the last 30 years and continue to decline. This is mainly due to the use of the Pap test, which can detect abnormal or precancerous cell changes in the cervix years before any cancer actually exists.
Most cervical cancers are found in women who have never had a Pap test or who have not had one recently. Financial challenges could account for why some women are not getting this important screening.
A Colorado program that provides free Pap tests to women who don’t have health insurance is helping to ensure women get screened. Women’s Wellness Connection (WWC) offers cervical cancer screenings to women beginning at age 21, which is when the CDC recommends women get their first Pap test. This program helps ensure women receive regular screenings to catch any signs of disease early, when chances of survival are highest.
“This removes a significant barrier to younger women receiving cervical cancer screenings, and we hope it will encourage more women to come in,” said Anna Lundeen, a physician at Northwest Colorado Health, which provides Pap tests through the program.
Certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common infection, cause cervical cancer. Most people who have HPV never develop symptoms or health problems. However, some high-risk types of HPV can become persistent infections causing cell changes leading to cancer. Getting a Pap and/or HPV test every three to five years can help detect and prevent cancer of the cervix. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 92 percent of women survive cervical cancer when it’s found early through routine tests.
In addition to cervical cancer screening, the Women’s Wellness Connection provides women an opportunity to connect with a primary care provider and benefit from additional preventative health care and education.
“Cervical cancer screening is among screenings recommended for women depending on their age, health history and other factors that could increase their risk for disease,” Lundeen said. “It’s important a woman has a health care provider that she feels comfortable going to with questions or concerns about her health.”
To qualify for free Pap tests through Women’s Wellness Connection, women must be age 21 to 64, have no insurance, live in Colorado, have not had a Pap test within the last 12 months, and meet income requirements. Women may qualify for free breast cancer screenings if they are age 40 or older. If screenings detect abnormalities and possible cancer, WWC can help pay for diagnostic testing. If cancer is found, the program will connect patients to the help needed to receive treatment. For those who do not qualify for WWC, Northwest Colorado Health will provide other resources that may be available to help pay for needed screenings.
Northwest Colorado Health’s low-cost, integrated health services help women achieve their best, whole-body health at any age. Additional women’s health services include breast exams, birth control including low or no cost long-acting reversible contraception (LARCs), HIV testing and medication, STI testing, pregnancy tests, behavioral health support and more. For more information, call 970-824-8233 in Craig or 970-879-1632 in Steamboat Springs, or visit northwestcoloradohealth.org/womenshealth.