Among the many New Year’s resolutions Georgians will be making, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) will be setting a few of its own. As part of Cervical Health Awareness Month this January, DPH is committing to advancing women’s health and reducing the rates of cervical cancer among Georgia’s women.
The United States Congress designated January as Cervical Health Awareness Month, organized throughout the country by the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC). During January, NCCC and its many local chapters across the country highlight issues related to cervical cancer, HPV disease and the importance of early detection. While NCCC raises awareness about cervical cancer throughout the year, January provides a timely opportunity to shine a spotlight on cervical health and cervical cancer prevention methods.
Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States. However, in the past 40 years, the number of cervical cancer cases and deaths has decreased significantly. This decline largely is the result of many women getting regular pap tests, which can identify cervical precancer before it turns into cancer.
In 2011, 12,109 women in the United States were diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,092 women died from the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The declining rates of cervical cancer have been documented in Georgia in recent years as well, but that does not disregard the continued burdens women impacted by the disease continue to endure in our state.
Cervical cancer in Georgia has dropped out of the top ten cancers and is now the 12th most common cancer diagnosed in Georgia women. According to 2012 data from DPH, 80.5 percent of Georgia women reported having had a pap test within the past three years. Moreover, uninsured women are less likely to report having had a pap test within the last three years than insured women regardless of race, education level or age.
Black women in Georgia have a higher cervical cancer incidence rate than non-Hispanic white women; however, Hispanic women have the highest incidence rate among these groups. Before age 50, white women in Georgia have higher cervical cancer incidence rates than black women; however, after age 50, incidence rates are higher in black women. Cervical cancer incidence rates are almost identical in black and white women in Georgia, but after age 40, black women have higher mortality rates than white women.
As a component of DPH’s Comprehensive Cancer Control Plan, addressing the prevention and management of cancers impacting women such as cervical and breast cancer will be a key priority for the agency and the member organizations of Georgia’s Cancer Control Consortium.
As outlined in the DPH’s Cancer Control Plan, the agency has established strategic plans to significantly improve the health outcomes for women battling cervical cancer by 2019. Some of these ambitious goals include:
- Increase the proportion of women who receive breast cancer screenings based on the most recent U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) guidelines of females aged 50 to 74 years from 77 percent to 81.1 percent.
- Increase the proportion of women who receive cervical cancer screenings based on the most recent USPSTF guidelines from 87 percent to 93 percent.
- Reduce income and insurance coverage disparities in breast and cervical cancer screening rates by 10 percent.
Through DPH’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Program, the agency serves approximately 15-18 percent of the eligible population with vital cancer prevention, management and monitoring services. While changes in the insurance market may increase coverage for Georgia’s women, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program will remain an essential program for the thousands of vulnerable women still projected to be without access to preventive and diagnostic screenings in the future.
According to the USPSTF recommendations, all women seen in primary care settings should be screened for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Georgia is fortunate to be one of only three states that receive funding for the Breast Cancer Genomics Education, Surveillance and Policy (ESP) project. The project’s goal is to increase awareness and screening regarding Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC) and the BRCA gene mutation, which causes approximately five to ten percent of breast and 15 to 21 percent of ovarian cancers.
Through innovative partnerships and programs working to increase access to cervical cancer services, DPH looks forward to ensuring a brighter and healthier future for Georgia’s women in 2015 and beyond.
Visit DPH online to learn more about the programs and services offered through our Breast and Cervical Cancer program. To read more about Cervical Health Awareness Month, visit the NCCC online at http://www.nccc-online.org/index.php/january.