Colchester, VT— This month marks Cervical Health Awareness and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE) joins public health organizations in the call to get screened for cervical cancer. Cervical cancer was once the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States, but thanks to screening and vaccinations, it is now one of the most preventable of all cancers.
Jennifer*, a patient of PPNNE, is sharing her story and crediting the organization for saving her life by detecting her cervical cancer before it spread. Her cervical cancer was caused by a high-risk strain of the human papillomavirus (HPV) and PPNNE was able to detect the cancer through a cervical cancer screening.
Statement from PPNNE patient Jennifer:
“Planned Parenthood has saved another woman’s life — mine! They caught my cervical cancer caused by HPV just in time before it fully spread. I knew something was off in my body. I listened to my intuition, and I booked an appointment with Planned Parenthood.
Getting my cervical cancer diagnosis was scary, but Planned Parenthood made me feel safe, well cared for, fully seen and heard, and respected. Not only did they get me referral care quickly for my hysterectomy, but their staff also provided me with counseling – everything from my mental health and how I felt about my surgery to the practicalities of helping me find childcare, transportation, and food as I recovered.
It is what amazing, inclusive, total reproductive health care looks like! Planned Parenthood saves lives and if sharing my story encourages someone else to get screened it’s worth it.”
Statement from Dr. Andrea Pelletier, PPNNE Medical Director
“Most cervical cancer is caused by HPV, an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. Often people who contract HPV have no symptoms at all and it goes away on its own. However high-risk strains of HPV if left untreated can cause cervical cancer.
One of the best ways to prevent HPV is to get the HPV vaccine, commonly known by the brand name Gardasil. The vaccine can be used by people of all genders who are between the ages of nine and forty-five, as it not only prevents cervical cancer, but also cancer of the anus, penis, vulva and throat. PPNNE also strongly recommends that people with a cervix are who are between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-five get regular cervical cancer screening, including an HPV test.”
According to Epic Research, routine cancer screenings of all kinds decreased dramatically at the start of the pandemic, with cervical cancer screening dipping by 94 percent. While many of these rates have returned to normal, rates of screening for cervical cancer were still down by about ten percent as of 2021. Delaying or missing screenings can lead to many serious health implications, including a delayed cancer diagnosis and increased morbidity and mortality.
There are more than two hundred strains of HPV, most of which are not harmful. But at least a dozen types of HPV are high risk, and two types in particular lead to the majority of cervical cancer cases. Each year, about 13,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with cancer of the cervix and about 4,000 people die from the disease. The cervix is the narrow, lower part of the uterus, with a small opening connecting the uterus to the vagina.
In 2020, the American Cancer Society updated its guidelines for cervical cancer screening. The organization now recommends screening for cervical cancer through an HPV test, instead of a Pap test, to look for high-risk strains of HPV and abnormal changes to the cervix.
PPNNE provides the HPV vaccine and cervical cancer screening at all 15 of their health centers across Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The organization’s Cancer Screening Access Fund also provides financial assistance to anyone seeking screening who cannot afford it. To book an appointment, visit www.ppnne.org or call 1-866-476-1321.
*Patient has chosen to omit her last name for confidentiality.