January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and Dickinson County Public Health has important information to share that can help those in our county. This year the American Cancer Society expects there will be roughly 13,820 new cases of invasive cervical cancer in the United States, and that about 4,360 women will die from it. Most women are diagnosed with cervical cancer between ages 35 and 44, although 20% of diagnoses are in women over age 65. Unfortunately, cervical cancer incidence rates have increased 1.7% each year from 2012 to 2019 in women ages 30 to 44. Fortunately, likely reflecting the first signs of cancer prevention from HPV vaccination, cervical cancer rates have decreased 11% each year in women ages 20 to 24. HPV vaccination is available for boys and girls starting at age nine.
Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are the most common causes of cervical cancer. Certain strains of these viruses have two proteins that turn off some tumor suppressor genes. This allows the cells lining the cervix to grow too much and develop changes in additional genes, which can lead to cancer. Early cervical cancers and pre-cancers usually have no symptoms. However, symptoms once the cancer is larger and grows into nearby tissue can include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Pain during sex
- Pain in pelvic region
The best way to find cervical cancer early is by a regular pap smear and HPV test. The Iowa Department of Health and Human Services’ Care for Yourself program provides free pap smears and pelvic exams to a limited number of women who meet any of the following qualifications:
- Resident of Dickinson, Emmet, or Osceola counties, and
- Are between the ages of 21-64 years of age, and
- Have a monthly income of $3,038 (take home pay) or less (add $1,070 for each additional household member), and
- Have no health insurance or have health insurance, but are unable to pay for out-of-pocket expenses related to screenings
Those interested in learning more about the Care for Yourself program or in scheduling an appointment for a pap smear and pelvic exam are to call Dickinson County Public Health at 712-339-6050 and ask for Pam or Milly.