Each year, more than 350 North Carolina women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and over 100 die from the condition. With numbers like this, the local Health Department and the Sampson County chapter of the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program (BCCCP) are working to help educate and inform women of the terrible disease.
According to State Cancer Profiles (2008-2012), Sampson County ranked No. 1 in the state for annual incidence rate of cervical cancer per capita.
With the month of January being Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, the BCCCP Advisory Board will promote the “Teal Ribbon Campaign,” letting it serve as a reminder for all women to get cervical screenings.
According to Luke Smith, health educator for the Sampson County Health Department, the agency offers many programs for women, age 21 or older, which includes pap screenings, education and information about the deadly disease.
With the staggering cervical cancer rate in Sampson, awareness is key, followed by action.
The latest statistics from the Center for Disease Control show that in 2012, 12,042 women in the United States were diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,074 women in the United States died from cervical cancer.
According to North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics, it was estimated that 123 women died from cervical cancer in NC in 2014. These numbers, Smith noted, are alarming, therefore the Health Department wants to do its part in helping prevent a disease that is almost 100 percent curable if diagnosed in the early stages.
“Prevention is extremely important,” she stressed. “Cervical cancer screenings can help detect abnormal (changed) cells early, before they turn into cancer. Almost all cervical cancer deaths could be prevented by routine pap tests and appropriate follow-up of abnormal screening results.”
At the Health Department, Smith said the Women’s Preventive Health Services (Family Planning) program provides medical and educational services to women of childbearing age. Services include information on correct contraceptive usage, self-breast exams, and sexually transmitted diseases. Charges for these services, Smith added, are based on a sliding fee scale and all services are confidential.
In addition to this program, Smith said the department offers a Prenatal and Adult Health clinic, which provides pap screenings, education and information to all pregnant women. Similar to the family planning program, this program’s charges are based on a sliding fee scale.
“The Health Department also offers the North Carolina Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program which provides free or low-cost cervical cancer screenings and follow-up as needed for eligible women in North Carolina,” Smith said.
According to Smith, women ages 21-64 are eligible for the BCCCP cervical cancer screenings if they meet all of the following criteria — have a household income at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level; are uninsured or underinsured; and are without Medicare Part B, Medicaid or Title X Family Planning Services.
The health educator said cervical cancer is preventable. According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, there are two ways to help prevent cervical cancer.
“First, prevent pre-cancers by avoiding risk factors,” Smith noted. “Young women can delay starting to have sex until they are older. Women of all ages can protect against HPV by having few sexual partners and not having sex with people who have had many partners.”
“Second, there are now vaccines that can protect people against HPV. Right now vaccines are only used to prevent, not treat, an HPV infection. HPV vaccines are available and recommended for both males and females ages 9 to 26. In addition, all women should have routine pap screenings done beginning at age 21.”
Having regular checkups, with a pap screening, Smith added, is a good way to detect cervical cancer early.
“Most deaths from cervical cancer could be avoided if women had regular checkups with the pap test,” Smith stressed. “The pap test is a quick and simple, generally painless, test that can detect abnormal cells and changes in the cervix. The pap test is done in a doctor’s office or clinic during a pelvic exam.”
Smith noted that there are factors that increase the risk of developing cervical cancer. Some strains of the HPV virus are high risk and can cause cervical cancer or abnormal cell changes of the cervix.
“Cervical cancer is more common among women who do not have regular pap tests,” Smith said. “The pap test helps doctors find precancerous cells. Treating precancerous cell changes often prevents cancer.”
Cervical cancer is also more common in women who have HIV or a weakened immune system, are over 40 years of age, have had many sexual partners, who smoke, have used oral contraceptives for a long period of time and for those who have a family history of cervical cancer.
“Cervical cancer may run in some families,” Smith noted. “If your mother or sister had cervical cancer, your chances of developing the disease are increased by two or three times.”
With Cervical Cancer Awareness month coming up, Smith said it’s time to raise awareness about how women can protect themselves against HPV and cervical cancer.
“HPV is a common sexually transmitted disease and a major cause of cervical cancer,” Smith said. “The Health Department will spread the word about important steps women can take to stay healthy by stressing the importance of screenings and by encouraging all women to get screened regularly.”
The Health Department recommends all women to talk with their doctor about having pap tests. Generally, Smith added, women should begin having pap tests after they reach 21 years of age and they should have them done every three to five years.
For any churches and organizations who wish to participate in the campaign, they are encouraged to call the Sampson County Health Department at 592-1131, ext. 4240 to request ribbons.
“These services are crucial to help women in Sampson County get screened to help prevent cervical cancer or catch it at an early stage,” Smith said. “Cervical cancer is almost 100 percent curable if diagnosed in the early stages and Sampson County would love to see our ranking drop from the third highest death rate in the state to last.”
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.