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Local News

Accessible Preventative Care Assists Pennsylvania Women in Protecting Their Health

Credit: iStock

Armand Jackson

It is well known how many women’s lives are affected by breast cancer and cervical cancer every year in Pennsylvania. In 2021, The American Cancer Society released a report on cancer facts and figures and discovered 12,140 new cases of female breast cancer and 560 new cases of cervical cancer in Pennsylvania last year. In order for women to protect their health from these diseases, preventative care measures such as mammograms, pap smears, and HPV tests are necessary for early detection and intervention of developing cancerous cells.

Mammogram screenings utilized on a regular basis give health care providers the best means to look for early signs of breast cancer with the possibility of detecting it three years before it can even be felt in the breast. A pap smear looks for cell changes on the cervix that can be a sign of cervical cancer and treats them before they become cancerous. It can also detect cervical cancer early enough to allow treatment to be most effective. And alongside pap smear, doctors perform the HPV test to look for the presence of HPV, the virus that is the main cause of precancerous cell changes and cervical cancer. 

A Kaiser Family Foundation state health fact found that 74 percent of women in Pennsylvania age 40 and older reported having a mammogram between 2019 and 2020. Another state health fact revealed that 74 percent of women in Pennsylvania age 18 to 64 reported having a pap smear between 2018 and 2020. This indicates that a majority of women throughout the state are taking the steps necessary to prevent both breast and cervical cancer. It is vital for women across Pennsylvania that these preventative measures are accessible across age demographics and ethnicities. 

It is important these percentages continue to rise in areas like Erie County where the CDC reported that between 2014 and 2018, there were 1,170 new cases of female breast cancer and within that time frame there were 227 who died as a result of the disease. During that same period of time, there were 68 new cases of cervical cancer which led to the deaths of 18 people.

In order to help women throughout the state who may not have access to preventative care due to low income, the Pennsylvania Department of Health working alongside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has introduced the Pennsylvania Breast & Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. This is a free breast and cervical cancer early detection program that provides mammograms, pap smear and HPV tests, along with follow-up diagnostic tests for abnormal screening results. 

This program has proven to be very effective in an annual report by Pennsylvania Cancer Control, Prevention, and Research Advisory Board which stated that between 2020 to 2021 a total of 6,781 breast and cervical cancer screenings were provided to women through the program.