11:22 AM, Feb. 5, 2011
by Patricia Anstett
The number of women getting annual Pap smears to find cervical cancer is dropping. In Michigan, 80% got the yearly test in 2008, down from 86.5% in 2004, according to the latest figures available from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Richard Gajdowski, medical director for United Healthcare of Michigan, says women may not know:
• They have a higher risk of cervical cancer if they smoke, have a diet low in fruits and vegetables, take birth control pills for more than five years, have had more than three full-term pregnancies, or have HIV or a Chlamydia infection.
• Screening should begin three years after the onset of vaginal intercourse and no later than age 21, according to guidelines from the American Cancer Society. The CDC recommends that all girls ages 11 or 12 be vaccinated for the human papillomavirus, or HPV, the leading cause of cervical cancer.
• Condoms may reduce the risk of cervical cancer and HPV.
• Women may be eligible for a free screening test if they are 40 to 64 years of age or need a diagnostic followup if something suspicious is found on a Pap smear. Free screening also is available for women ages 18 to 39 if they attend a federal Title X family planning program and have been identified with a cervical abnormality. Call 800-922-6266 for details.