State Senator Shirley L. Huntley (D-Queens) today encouraged every adult woman to take advantage of Pap smear screening, which tests for cancer of the cervix, the lower, narrow end of the uterus or womb. January is Cervical Cancer Screening Month.
"With the start of a new year, as many of us make resolutions to improve our lives, January is a perfect time to make an appointment to be screened," Senator Huntley said. "The ability to detect subtle changes in the cervix before cancer develops, or find early cancer in its most curable stage, is one of the great success stories in women's health."
Since the introduction of the screening test known as the Pap smear in the 1950s, the death rate for cervical cancer has dropped by more than 70 percent. Studies now show that cervical cancer is usually caused by a common, sexually transmitted virus– human papilloma virus, or HPV. While more than 100 strains, or types, of HPV have been identified, only a few "high risk" strains can lead, in rare cases, to cervical cancer.
"Every woman needs to know that cervical screening – and awareness of HPV – are essential tools in the fight against this highly preventable but deadly cancer," Senator Huntley said. "This is especially true for Hispanic women, whose rate of cervical cancer is twice that of white women. Also vulnerable are African-American women, who develop cervical cancer about 50 percent more often than white women."
By age 50, at least 80 percent of American women will have contracted HPV. Since infections typically show no symptoms, however, women are often unaware they are infected. Thankfully, the body's immune system clears the infection in most cases. Only certain types of HPV infection that persist can lead to cervical cancer.
Senator Huntley noted that new screening methods have improved accuracy as well as the ability to test for high-risk HPV strains. On a related note, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a first-of-its-kind cervical cancer vaccine for girls, providing protection against two types of HPV responsible for about 70 percent of all cervical cancers.
"All women need access to cancer-screening tools," said Senator Huntley, adding that New York's Healthy Women Partnership Program provides breast and cervical cancer diagnostic and treatment services for women who are low-income, uninsured, or underserved. To learn more about program eligibility, call Cancer Information Services at 1-800-422-6237 and ask for a contact name and phone number for your county or borough. You can also get information by visiting the state Health Department website at www.health.state.ny.us.
"Despite its availability and remarkable success in reducing deaths, far too many women neglect to take advantage of cervical screening," Senator Huntley concluded. "Experts estimate that about one third of women who should have regular Pap smears do not. I encourage any woman who is not sure whether she needs regular cervical screening to speak with her gynecologist or family physician. Remember, early detection saves lives."