Roughly 14,500 women in the U.S. were newly diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2021, and about 4,300 U.S. women died from it last year, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
While vaccinations and appropriate screenings such as pap and HPV tests have dramatically dropped the number of cases, cervical cancer remains the fourth-most-common cancer among women worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
“So we cannot be complacent, because when not caught in time, the disease remains every bit the deadly threat it’s always been,” said Dr. Jennifer Chambers, chief medical officer at Capital Blue Cross.
The disease remains perilous, and statistics even suggest recent slippage in the cervical cancer fight, partly due to missed cervical screenings during the pandemic. The ACS projections for 2021 are trending in a troubling direction: nearly 500 more people diagnosed in 2021 than in 2020; nearly 1,700 more people diagnosed than in 2017; and nearly 100 more expected deaths vs. 2017. Also, despite steady improvement in survival rates, more than a third of Pennsylvania women diagnosed with cervical cancer will still die within five years, according to state Department of Health data.
Strikes in Life’s Prime
According to the ACS, cervical cancer primarily is most frequently diagnosed in women age 35 to 44. In Pennsylvania, the state Department of Health reports, the median age of incidence is 52.
It’s a costly disease, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts America’s annual cervical cancer bill at $1.6 billion.
We can all help improve these bleak statistics by encouraging women we know to be proactive about their preventive care. Capital Blue Cross helps do just that. 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.
“Emphasizing the importance of cervical cancer screenings is an enormously effective first step,” Dr. Chambers said. “It’s important to take that step decisively.”