For Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, learn how to prevent cervical cancer

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, and Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic (KBFPC) wants you to know that there’s a lot you can do to prevent cervical cancer. Each year, more than 15,000 individuals in the United States get cervical cancer.

HPV (human papillomavirus) is a very common infection that spreads through sexual activity, and it causes almost all cases of cervical cancer. About 79 million Americans currently have HPV, but many people with HPV don’t know they are infected.

The good news?

• The HPV vaccine (shot) can prevent HPV.

• Cervical cancer can often be prevented with regular screening tests and follow-up care.

• You can take steps to maximize cervical health by eating healthy and nutritious foods, reducing stress, and avoiding tobacco use and second hand smoke.

In honor of National Cervical Health Awareness Month, KBFPC encourages:

• Women to start getting regular cervical cancer screenings at age 21

• Parents to make sure pre-teens get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12

Teens and young adults also need to get the HPV vaccine if they didn’t get it as pre-teens. Women up to age 26 and men up to age 21 can still get the vaccine.

The percentage of Alaska women (ages 21-65) who have had a pap test to screen for cervical cancer in the prior 3 years has decreased over the past two decades from 95.1% in 1991 to 77.3% in 2016. Similar declines have occurred among Alaska Native women, from 94.1% in 1991 to 84.3 in 2016. There were significant declines in 2014 from the previous reporting in 2012 but rates were steady or rose again in 2016.

Since the development of the Healthy Alaskans 2010 targets, the US Preventive Services Task Force released its recommendations for screening for cervical cancer.2 This updated recommendation is that women ages 21 and older be screened every 3 years.

The Healthy Alaskans 2010 target of 95 percent individuals with up to date screening has not been met.

There are no significant differences in cervical cancer screening rates by race or ethnicity or between most regions. There are differences in screening rates between women who are college graduates versus those who were high school graduates; those employed versus those unable to work; and those with middle/high income versus those who are poor or near poor.

Thanks to the health care reform law, you and your family members may be able to get these services at no cost to you. KBFPC bills all insurance carriers and Medicaid. If you are uninsured, or your insurance does not cover this preventive care, we are able to cover the cost through Alaska Breast and Cervical Health Check. For example, a single individual can earn up to $3,092/month or a household of four with income up to $6,329/month and still qualify.

We have assistance available for transportation to and from the clinic, and for dependent care during your visit.

Support for these services comes from Title X, Alaska Breast and Cervical Health Check, your Pick.Click.Give contributions and community donations.

For more information about services on the Kenai Peninsula call Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic at 907-235-3436

Taking small steps can help keep you safe and healthy. #JustShowUp #CheckedUpCheckedOff

Catriona Reynolds is the executive director of Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic.