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State program aims to eliminate barriers for women needing cervical cancer screenings

State program aims to eliminate barriers for women needing cervical cancer screening
Published: Jan. 21, 2022 at 4:30 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - January is cervical cancer awareness month.

It is estimated that 14,000 women were diagnosed in 2021 and Kentucky is second in the nation for cervical cancer rates. It is a highly preventable cancer with early detection, but for a lot of Kentucky women, the screening is put off due to the cost.

One state program in partnership with Kentucky CancerLink aims to eliminate that barrier and be a link to hope in saving lives.

The symptoms of cervical cancer can often times go unnoticed or easily be dismissed. More than 90% of cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV.

In the last 40 years the Centers for Disease Control says the number of women being diagnosed with cervical cancer has decreased, thanks in part to more education on screenings and the HPV vaccine.

“This is a preventable disease if we can get HPV vaccinations in enough people and we can get people coming in and finding that pre-cancerous lesion, it is easily treatable, said Dr. Connie White.

Dr. White, the deputy commissioner of clinical affairs for the state and an OB-GYN, said we still lose far too many to the disease.

In 2019 there were 206 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed, but 71 women died of the disease, according to state numbers.

“We lose at least a woman a week to cervical cancer, a preventable, completely preventable disease, said Dr. White.

For many women there is still a stigma, but also a cost barrier when it comes to these lifesaving screenings. The Kentucky Women’s Cancer Screening Program works to eliminate those barriers.

“Our biggest focus is getting those women rarely or never screened. The new recommendations are at least every five years you need that pap and HPV testing, so we certainly encourage women to see that provider,” said Dr. White.

Cervical cancer screenings should begin at age 21 and continue to age 65, longer if medical history shows a woman is at increased risk. For women who have reached age 30 there are three choices for routine screening:

- continue with a Pap Test every three years

- HPV test every five years

- or a co-test (both Pap and HPV) every five years

The KWCSP is a federally funded public health program providing free or low-cost breast and cervical cancer screenings and diagnostic services to eligible women in Kentucky.

The program partners with Kentucky CancerLink in helping connect women to services in their area.

“We want to remove that fear of not only getting screened but not being able to afford to be screened. It is a statewide program that we can navigate ladies to a provider close to them,” said Melissa Karrer, Kentucky Cancer Link.

The KWCSP eligibility requirements are:

- Women ages 21 and older

- Household income at or less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level

- No health insurance including Medicaid and Medicare Part B

It is a partnership providing what could not only be a lifesaving tool for Kentucky women, but a link to hope for many.

“Do not be afraid of this, what you have to be afraid of is not coming and not getting screened that to me is more fearful,” said Dr. White.

Dr. White worries during the pandemic many women may have put off these very routine appointments. She says get scheduled today if you are overdue.

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