January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. The CDC states that HPV (Human Papillomavirus) currently affects about 79 million Americans and is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. Click here to learn more.
Unfortunately, studies show that minority women are less likely to attend cervical screening than their mainstream counterparts. African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans all have reportedly lower testing levels for Pap smears. [Note - these testing values are also lower for men and Prostate exams in similar numbers.] Screening with cytology (Pap smear) is recommended for women from 21 to 29 years old every 3 years, and HPV screening is not recommended, alone or with cytology. Cytology (Pap smear) is recommended for women from 30 to 65 in combination with HPV testing every 5 years or with cytology alone every 3 years. For women younger than 21, older than 65 ( who have had prior adequate screenings and were not deemed at higher risk), and women who have had a hysterectomy are not recommended to have screenings.
It is important that we get checked out, and not let common biases and cultural differences preclude these life-saving tests. Emotional barriers, including fear, embarrassment and anticipated shame, and a low perceived risk might contribute to understanding the lower cervical screening coverage for some ethnic groups. However, interventions help to improve knowledge and understanding of cervical cancer - they are needed in communities of color, and investments in training for health professionals may improve experiences and encourage repeat attendance for all women.
For more information, please check out some of the following organizations to learn more: