Survey Reveals Nearly Half Have Skipped Medical Care Due to Cost Issues
Memphis, TN - When it comes to cervical cancer, many Memphis women are not accessing the tools available to protect themselves from this preventable disease, according to recent survey findings released by the National Women's Health Resource Center (NWHRC), a non-profit organization dedicated to providing health education to women. The survey shows that while many Memphis women are aware of important prevention tools like the HPV vaccine, the Pap test and the HPV test, they are missing the annual physician visits where they could receive these technologies. In fact, although most (84 percent) think the exams are "extremely important" or "very important," nearly half (48 percent) of those surveyed had not had a gynecologic/pelvic exam in the past year.
The survey explored women's awareness of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, and the tools to prevent the disease, including the Pap test, the HPV test and the HPV vaccine. A Pap test detects abnormal cells caused by HPV that can lead to cervical cancer, while the HPV test checks for high-risk strains of the virus itself—dentifying women most at risk for developing cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine protects against the two 'high-risk' types of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers. Key findings include:
Seventy-four percent of Memphis women surveyed have seen or read about HPV and most (67 percent) recognized that cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Almost three quarters (72 percent) of Memphis women surveyed were aware of the HPV vaccine.
While half (51 percent) of women surveyed have seen or read about the HPV test, only 9 percent of women reported getting the HPV test. The HPV test is recommended along with a Pap test for women 30 and older, because HPV infections are more likely to be persistent at this age, and therefore more likely to increase a woman's risk for cervical cancer. The test may also be used in women under 30 as a follow-up to an inconclusive Pap test.
Despite many women being aware of the HPV vaccine, the Pap test and the HPV test, women are still unclear about what tools are appropriate for their age group.
Many falsely believed that the Pap test looks for conditions such as ovarian cancer (52 percent), sexually transmitted diseases (42 percent) and pregnancy (11 percent).
"These survey results seem to indicate that Memphis women may not be getting the regular gynecologic care they need to protect themselves from cervical cancer, which is virtually preventable with the Pap test, HPV test and HPV vaccine," says Elizabeth Battaglino Cahill, R.N., executive director of NWHRC. "We believe more work is needed to educate women in the Memphis area about cervical cancer prevention so that they will be proactive about their health and speak to their healthcare professional about which cervical cancer prevention tools are best for them." NWHRC is conducting cervical cancer awareness surveys in several U.S. cities.
Getting the Facts Straight About Cervical Cancer and Cervical Cancer Prevention
Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer that strikes women today. In the United States, cervical cancer affected more than 11,000 women in 2008 and killed nearly 4,000. Cervical cancer has a single known cause—the human papillomavirus (HPV)—which infects approximately 80 percent of all women at some point in their lifetimes. In the majority of women, the virus goes away or is suppressed by the body before it causes any problems. Routine HPV testing has been FDA-approved for use with a Pap test in women age 30 and older. Together, Pap and HPV tests help make sure abnormal cells are diagnosed and treated early. Additionally, an HPV vaccine has been FDA-approved for girls and young women ages 9-26, which is the age group that was studied in clinical trials. While the vaccine offers protection against 70 percent of cervical cancers, it does not provide complete protection against all strains of high-risk HPV. Women who are vaccinated should still get screened as appropriate.
"We now have the incredible opportunity to stop cervical cancer," says Dr. Joseph T. Santoso from West Clinic in Memphis. "With tools such as the Pap test, HPV test and HPV vaccine, we can significantly reduce the number of women who die from cervical cancer today." With more than 40 physicians across a range of specialties and nurses and nurse practitioners in more than seven Memphis area locations, West Clinic offers a comprehensive of cancer treatments including cervical cancer.
Memphis resident, cervical cancer survivor and advocate Michelle Whitlock adds, "In my case, the HPV test caught my cervical cancer in time for my doctors to save my life. Women should never skip their regular visits to the gynecologist, and they need to make a point to ask for the HPV test as part of routine screening if they are 30 or older."
In related news, the Stephanie Vasofsky Cervical Cancer Foundation, a Memphis-based organization dedicated to cervical cancer education and awareness, is holding its second annual "Pray, Race and Yell for a Cure" Walk on March 14th in order to further increase awareness of the disease. For more information, please visit www.feelteal.org.
NWHRC is also a partner in the Pearl of Wisdom™ Campaign to Prevent Cervical Cancer, a united global effort to raise awareness of the opportunities now available to prevent cervical cancer. The campaign promotes the Pearl of Wisdom as the global symbol of cervical cancer prevention. Michelle Whitlock and other advocates around Memphis will be distributing Pearl of Wisdom pins at various events throughout the city. Pearls also can be purchased—and "virtual" pearls can be downloaded and shared—by visiting www.PearlofWisdom.us. All profits go to the U.S. Pearl of Wisdom Campaign Fund to support U.S.-based cervical cancer prevention activities.
For more information on cervical cancer, Memphis residents are encouraged to view NWHRC's cervical cancer prevention guide at http://healthywomen.org/cervicalcancer/index.html.
About the National Women's Health Resource Center
The not-for-profit National Women's Health Resource Center is the leading independent health information source for women. NWHRC develops and distributes up-to-date and objective women's health information based on the latest advances in medical research and practice. NWHRC believes all women should have access to the most trusted and reliable health information. Information empowers women to make the best decisions to maintain and improve their health and the health of their families.
An online, quantitative survey, fielded by Russell Research, was conducted among 509 Memphis women ages 18 - 65 between Feb. 9-13, 2009. The survey assessed women's evolving awareness and knowledge about HPV and cervical cancer prevention. The survey was funded with an educational grant provided by QIAGEN, makers of the digene HPV Test. For more information, please visit www.thehpvtest.com.
Contact: Lindsey Wiegmann