While vaccinations and appropriate screenings such as Pap and human papillomavirus (HPV) tests have dramatically dropped new cervical cancer cases in the United States over the past century, the disease remains the fourth-most-common cancer among women worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

January is National Cervical Health Awareness Month, an opportune time to reflect on how dangerous the disease remains, particularly for working-aged women. The American Cancer Society (ACS) projected nearly 14,000 new cervical cancer cases and more than 4,300 cervical cancer deaths in the U.S. in 2023.

“So we need to continue to be vigilant, particularly when it comes to preventive measures such as screening,” said Dr. Jeremy Wigginton, chief medical officer at Capital Blue Cross. “Screening saves lives, but you have to do more than be aware of that; you have to actually get screened.”

The Value of Cancer Screenings

Statistics continue to suggest recent slippage in the cervical cancer fight, partly due to missed cervical screenings during the pandemic. In fact, the ACS projections show cervical cancer was on pace to claim more lives in 2023 than it did in 2017.

The disease remains particularly perilous in Pennsylvania, which has the sixth highest rate of cervical cancer incidence and fifth highest rate of cervical cancer deaths in the U.S.

“(Cervical cancer) screening saves lives, but you have to do more than be aware of that; you have to actually get screened.”
— Dr. Jeremy Wigginton, chief medical officer at Capital Blue Cross

Cervical cancer primarily strikes women in the prime of their working lives. According to the ACS, the disease is most frequently diagnosed in women from 35 to 44 years old.

It’s a costly disease, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts America’s annual cervical cancer bill at $2.3 billion, and says annual productivity losses – due to missed work and employment disability – are $1,000 more for cancer survivors in general.

How Capital Encourages Preventive Care

Capital Blue Cross helps contain costs and encourage preventive care. The health insurer:

  • Reminds its members who have no cervical cancer screening records about the importance of having routine screenings.

  • Provides education, through member and employer-group newsletters, on screening’s importance and other preventive measures, including HPV vaccinations.

  • Shares with its medical providers best practices for increasing screening rates and offers some providers incentives for good performance in this area.

  • Shares screening information on social media.

  • Provides employer toolkits that include self-service guidance, step-by-step instructions and suggestions for promoting screening among employees, as well as the ability to provide presentations and post exhibits.

But Dr. Wigginton re-emphasized that up-to-date, preventive screenings are the single most important thing women can do to successfully battle cervical cancer.

“Guidelines have changed in the last several years,” he said, “so make sure you are up to date. Talk to your regular healthcare provider about your risk and how often you should get screened.”