“A Pap test is an important part of a woman’s routine health care because it can detect cancer or abnormalities that may lead to cancer of the cervix,” said Pat Fralick, Director of Family & Community Health for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan.
Most cervical cancers are slow-growing and develop over a long period of time. During this time, abnormal cervical tissue can be detected easily by a Pap test and then removed by a health care provider before the abnormal tissue develops into cancer.
Experts believe that virtually all cervical cancer deaths could be prevented by a combination of safe sex practices, routine Pap tests, and appropriate follow-up of abnormal Pap test results. Yet 101 women in Michigan died from cervical cancer in 2006.
The Michigan Cancer Consortium recommends regular Pap testing and speculum exams for women beginning at age 21 or three years after the onset of sexual activity, whichever occurs first. Women age 40 to 64 from Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, or Otsego counties without health insurance, or with health insurance that does not cover Pap tests, are eligible for free Pap tests as long as they meet certain income guidelines. “With the declining economy, many women may have lost health insurance benefits they’ve had for a long time,” said Fralick. “We want them to know they may be eligible for free Pap tests at the Health Department, and if needed, diagnostic testing and treatment.”
Cervical cancer is caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. Women who have had unprotected sex, intercourse at a young age, and/or many sexual partners are at an increased risk for HPV infection. In 2006, the FDA approved a vaccine that prevents against two strains of HPV that are responsible for 70 percent of all cervical cancers. Recommended for females age 9 to 26, the HPV vaccine is available at Health Department offices in Mancelona, Charlevoix, Petoskey/Harbor Springs, and Gaylord.
“The HPV vaccine is the first vaccine we have to prevent a cancer,” Fralick said. “Now we can look forward to the day when no women die of cervical cancer.”
The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. To confirm eligibility for a free Pap test or schedule appointments for Pap tests or HPV vaccination, call (800) 432-4121. For additional information, contact Teresa Sington, Breast & Cervical Cancer Control Program Coordinator, at 231-533-1012.