By Mayte Prida
Now is the time when many people resolve to do better for themselves in the year ahead we promise things such as losing weight, being more patient and volunteering. And that lasts until about the time Valentine’s Day chocolates arrive. Coincidence? Probably not. This year, make a resolution that you can keep: encourage the women in your life to take steps that will prevent the development of cervical cancer.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women worldwide. While this disease is less common in the United States than in other countries, it is still hitting our community particularly hard. In California, Latinas are diagnosed with cervical cancer more often than women in any other ethnic group.
The easiest way to prevent cervical cancer is to have a yearly pap smear, a microscopic examination of cells found on a woman’s cervix, preformed through a quick and relatively painless pelvic examination. Pap smears have been credited with helping jumpstart a 70 percent drop in the national cervical cancer death rates over the past six decades. While early detection is important for survival, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) only 82 percent of Latinas in California are being screened. Consequently, our community has the highest rates of late stage diagnoses and the second highest cervical cancer mortality rate in the state.
Cervical cancer is frequently caused by the human papillo-mavirus (HPV), the most common sexually-transmitted virus in the U.S., affecting at least 80 percent of women under the age of 50. Most HPV infections go away naturally, and having HPV does not mean you will get cancer, you are simply at a higher risk, particularly if left undetected. HPV can be present without any noticeable symptoms, so the only way to find out if you have HPV is to get the appropriate screening tests.
HPV and cervical cancer testing are now more available to medically underserved women through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program and California’s Every Woman Counts program. These programs offer testing to women without health insurance for free or at very little cost. You should contact the CDC at www.cdc.gov/spanish or 1-800-CDC-INFO for information about the Early Detection Program. You can learn more about the Every Woman Counts screening program by calling 1-800-511-2300. Also, the National Cervical Cancer Coalition provides information, support and resources throughout California. Call 1-800-685-5531 to contact the chapter nearest you.
Besides screening and education, medicines also have the power to provide hope in the fight against cervical cancer. A new vaccine for use in girls and women between the ages of 9 and 26 protects against four types of HPV, which together cause 70 percent of cervical cancers, according to the CDC. A recent survey by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) revealed 135 medicines (including vaccines) are in development for cancers disproportionately affecting women, including 17 for cervical cancer.
For those who need help affording their prescription medicines, including the HPV vaccine, there are programs that can help. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), a national program sponsored by America’s pharmaceutical research companies, provides a single point of access to information on 475 patient assistance programs. More than 2,500 brand-name and generic prescription medicines are available through the participating programs. So far, the PPA program has already helped more than 4.5 million people in need nationwide. Please call 1-888-4PPA-NOW (1-888-477-2669) or visit their Web site at https://espanol.pparx.org to learn how the PPA program can help you.
There are two critical ways to prevent cervical cancer: the HPV vaccine and regular Pap tests. Make your 2008 resolution to discuss these important tools in our fight against cervical cancer with your healthcare professional.
Mayte Prida, a nationally recognized television personality, producer and author, is a national spokeswoman for the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), a patient assistance program clearinghouse launched in April 2005 by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).