According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 140 Mississippi women will develop cervical cancer this year — a potentially fatal disease all the more tragic due to its preventability.
A simple medical procedure called a Pap test can catch the disease in its early stages when it is easier to treat. The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) offers Pap screenings in every public health district, and uninsured women may qualify to receive screening at no charge.
Women who are at high risk should have a Pap test annually. Those who are not at high risk and have had three normal Pap tests should have a Pap test every other year.
Women who engaged in sexual intercourse, or who experienced their first full-term pregnancy before they were 17 years old are at a higher risk for developing cervical cancer. Other factors that can raise one's risk of cervical cancer include a history of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, chlamydia or the human papilloma virus (HPV). African-American women are especially at high risk: their mortality rate from cervical cancer is almost twice as high as the average Mississippi woman (6.1 per 100,000 compared to 3.5 per 100,000 in 2010).
Other factors that can raise a woman's risk for cervical cancer include smoking and a diet high in fat. Women who smoke are about twice as likely to get cervical cancer. Finally, women who have a mother or sister who has had cervical cancer are at a higher risk of developing the disease.
MSDH urges women to take preventive measures to minimize their risk of developing cervical cancer: practice safe sex by using condoms; don't begin sexual activity at an early age; and ask your doctor about HPV vaccination. Certain strains of HPV are strongly linked to the development of cervical cancer. Quitting smoking and eating a healthier, balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables can also reduce the chance of developing the disease.
Find out more about cervical cancer and free screenings in your community by calling the MSDH Breast and Cervical Cancer Program at 1-800-721-7222 or by visiting MSDH online at www.HealthyMS.com.