Patient Engagement

Raise Cervical Cancer Awareness This January with CareMessage

With the recent news that the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccination may be effective up to age 45, this year’s Cervical Cancer Awareness month promises to be a great opportunity for FQHCs to raise awareness around this highly preventable disease. 

According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC), almost 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the U.S. each year. As we move into January, let’s look at a few of the most important facts about cervical cancer: 

  • Most cases are diagnosed between the ages of 35 and 44.

  • About 15% of cases are diagnosed in women over 65. 

  • It is uncommon that cervical cancer is diagnosed in women younger than 20.

  • HPV is found in about 99% of cervical cancers.

  • Cervical cancer rates have been found to be higher in underserved populations.

When detected early, the survival rates for this type of cancer are high. If caught at an early stage, the 5-year survival rate is 92%. But after the disease has spread to other tissues, organs, or the regional lymph nodes, that same rate drops to 56%.

Awareness can make a significant difference in the outcomes for FQHC patients at risk for cervical cancer, and FQHC leaders are uniquely positioned to improve patient outcomes by encouraging proper screening and an understanding of risk factors. 

A Preventable Problem

As the CDC says, “no woman should die of cervical cancer”. There are two primary methods for preventing and limiting the impact of cervical cancer: 

  • Early detection through regular screening tests and follow-up care

  • The HPV vaccine

During cervical cancer month, FQHCs around the country can help people at risk of cervical cancer and their loved ones better understand the steps they can take to prevent and catch the disease early. This includes simple steps like encouraging well-woman visits, increasing awareness of insurance plan coverage and screening, and having discussions with parents about the importance of getting pre-teen girls and boys vaccinated. 

The HPV Connection

According to the NCCC, over 70% of cervical cancer cases can be attributed to either HPV-16 or HPV-18.  Vaccinating for HPV helps prevent infection from the forms of the virus that are at high risk of leading to cervical cancer, as well as lower risk types that cause genital warts. When the vaccine is administered younger (up to age 14), only two doses are required, but after age 15 and up to 45, three doses are needed. 

Pap tests are used to identify changes in cervical cells caused by HPV while the HPV test itself finds the virus and helps healthcare providers identify who is at highest risk for cervical cancer. These two tests, either alone or in combination, are recommended for women over 30, so consider age-targeted outreach events, education, and campaigns during your Cervical Cancer Month efforts. 

Warning Signs

While screenings and tests can be incredibly effective, it’s equally as important that FQHC patients understand they should watch for symptoms themselves. Some signs that could indicate cervical cancer include: 

  • Spotting between or after periods

  • Menstrual bleeding that is heavier or longer than usual

  • Bleeding after intercourse, a pelvic exam, or douching

  • Increased vaginal discharge

  • Painful sexual intercourse

  • Post-menopausal bleeding

  • Persistent pelvic and/or back pain that is unexplained

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. Combining patient awareness of signs and symptoms, along with the understanding of screening and treatment options is a powerful step in reducing the impact that this cancer has on underserved populations. 

Tips for FQHCs

If your FQHC is dedicating this month to raising awareness around cervical cancer, consider some of the following methods:

  • Outreach campaigns to inform your community of free and reduced cost screening options

  • Text-based educational campaigns to help patients and parents understand the causes and risk factors around HPV

  • Events to highlight the multiple options your community has in reducing the rate of both HPV and cervical cancer

Thanks to increases in screening and early detection, the U.S. saw the death rate from cervical cancer drop by around 50% between 1975 and 2016. FQHCs can continue that trend of improvement for underserved populations this January. If you’re interested in more ideas on how you can use texting to enhance your current effort, fill out the form below.

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