Regular pap smears are vital — and there are ways to offset the costs

Special to the Herald-Leader,Hope CottrillMarch 24, 2013 

Dr. Hope Cottrill

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Since 1943, when Georgios Papanikolaou developed the pap smear to detect cervical cancer, the test has been credited with a dramatic decrease in cervical cancer deaths but women have to have the test to reap the benefits.

Many Kentucky women don't.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Kentucky is in the top 12 states for incidence of cervical cancer and in the top 6 for cervical cancer death. Women from a rural area, those who have lower incomes and those who abuse tobacco — which, together, describes many women in Kentucky — are at increased risk for cervical cancer.

Cervical cancers are caused by human papilloma virus (HPV) infections, and two strains of HPV are responsible about 70 percent of all cervical cancers. Screening guidelines released in 2012 have been updated to include HPV testing for specific age groups based on risk. Pap smears are not initiated until age 21. Pap smears may be discontinued after age 65 unless there has been an abnormality in the past. In general, if a woman has had a hysterectomy for non-cancerous reasons she may stop having pap smears. I strongly encourage women to still undergo an annual gynecologic examination to evaluate for pelvic, vulvar and vaginal problems.

Like other infections such as measles, there is a vaccination for HPV. The vaccination can be given as early as age 9 although the CDC recommends vaccination at age 11-12. The same way the measles vaccination does not induce behavior changes increasing the risk of measles infection, it is safe to say that HPV vaccination will not encourage your children to have sex.

Please don't let money get in the way of your health care. I have had patients with abnormal pap smears who did not seek further attention due to a loss of insurance, and they went on to develop advanced cervical cancer. Pap smears are available through your local health department, where fees for services are based on income and number of household members.

The least expensive fee for a pap smear at the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department is about $20-$25. Further, women may qualify for the Kentucky Women's Cancer Screening Program, which provides funding for breast and cervical cancer screening.

This is important. Take the time and effort to get checked for this preventable cancer — don't become a statistic.

Dr. Hope Cottrill, a gynecologic oncologist with Baptist GYN Oncology Services, practices at Baptist Health Lexington.

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