What Latinas Need to Know About Cervical Cancer

By Marcela Vargas, Project Coordinator, Institute for Hispanic Health, NCLR

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January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. It is particularly important to us here at NCLR because of the impact it has on the Latina community. In 2011, Latina women had the highest rate of cervical cancer out of all racial and ethnic groups. In the same year, Latinas had the second-highest death rate due to cervical cancer out of the same groups. The sad reality about these rates is that they could very easily decrease if we took more time to worry about preventive health. With that in mind, here are three things you should know about cervical cancer:

  1. All women can get cervical cancer. While all women are at risk for cervical cancer, certain factors can increase the chances of getting the disease. Having HIV or a condition that weakens the immune system puts you at higher risk for getting cervical cancer. In addition, smoking or having used birth control pills for at least five years also increase the risk. Lastly, women who have given birth to three or more children are more likely to develop cervical cancer.
  2. Cervical cancer does not always cause symptoms. Many times, we do not think to go to the doctor until we are not feeling well. In the case of cervical cancer, we cannot take this risk. It often does not cause any symptoms. In the rare cases that it does, symptoms do not occur until the disease is in its advanced stages.
  3. There are ways to prevent cervical cancer. There are several ways to protect yourself. Regular Pap tests help catch cervical cancer when treatment is still simple. It is also important to follow up with your health care provider if your Pap test results come back abnormal. Using condoms during sexual activity and not smoking will also help protect you from cervical cancer.

The good news about all of this is that there are resources for women to get themselves screened. In 2015, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, Pap tests are covered by insurance companies at no cost to you. If you still do not have insurance, the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program provides access to cervical cancer screening services.

Success and Lessons Learned in Reducing Health Disparities

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In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initiated Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) to address the Healthy People 2010 goal of eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities in the U.S. Through the REACH program, six minority-serving national organizations (MNOs) were funded to design and implement health equity projects that work toward closing health gaps in racial and ethnic minority groups. The REACH MNOs focused on reducing disparities in health priority areas.

As a REACH MNO, NCLR focused on cervical cancer prevention among Latina women with its Mujer Sana, Familia Fuerte (Healthy Woman, Strong Family) project. Latinas have the second-highest rate of cervical cancer out of all racial and ethnic groups. In addition, Latina women have the second-highest death rate due to cervical cancer out of these same groups. Mujer Sana, Familia Fuerte offered women one-on-one and small-group education sessions on cervical cancer prevention led by promotores de salud (lay health educators). The program was implemented in community-based organizations that serve primarily Spanish-speaking immigrants. Mujer Sana, Familia Fuerte successfully reached thousands of Latinos in Chicago and Washington, DC, through its cervical cancer prevention effects.

Among the successes of this project were the lessons learned, which can help others working with minority and Latino communities. Each MNO wrote success stories to share their experiences and provide guidance to others who are committed to eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health through prevention and management. These accomplishments were compiled in a book to showcase the impact of national organizations working with communities to close health disparities. Although each organization worked with different groups and on different issues, the stories revealed several commonalities, including the importance of relationship building and the support of community leaders in the success of each project.

To learn how NCLR and other national organizations worked to reduce health disparities, take a look at REACH for Health Equity.

It’s National Women’s Health Week. Let’s Pledge to Take Care of Our Health!

By Marcela Vargas, Project Coordinator, Institute for Hispanic Health, NCLR

nwhw-profile-photoWhile health is always on our minds here at NCLR’s Institute for Hispanic Health (IHH), this week we are particularly thinking of women’s health.

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day and it kicked off National Women’s Health Week, led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women’s Health to encourage women to prioritize their physical and mental health. Women were also encouraged to take steps such as paying attention to mental health, eating healthy, participating in physical activity, and getting regular checkups and health screenings.

Here at IHH, we have our own efforts to promote women’s health. Among these efforts is our project Mujer Sana, Familia Fuerte(Healthy Woman, Strong Family)—funded by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—which educates women in Chicago and Washington, D.C., around cervical cancer prevention through community health workers.

Cervical cancer prevention is also near and dear to us at IHH for many reasons. Latinas have the second-highest rate of both contracting and dying from cervical cancer out of all racial and ethnic groups. Despite this, Latinas are not getting screened for cervical cancer as regularly as is recommended.

But it’s not all bad news. Not only is cervical cancer preventable, but it is also easily treated if caught in early stages. Getting routine Pap tests is a valuable way of identifying cervical cancer when treatment is still simple and effective. The CDC reports that 60 percent of cervical cancer cases occur in women who have never received a Pap test or have not been tested within the last five years.

Today is the last day of National Women’s Health Week, but that doesn’t mean we can forget about our health. You can take your own steps to help yourself or a loved one prioritize a healthy life. Pledge to become a well woman and educate yourself about Latinas and cervical cancer.

Three Things to Know about Cervical Cancer Prevention

Smiling DoctorBack in January, we wrote here about cervical cancer and Pap tests, which look for cancers and pre-cancers in the cervix. This month, it is National Minority Health Month, which is a time to discuss health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities. It’s also a perfect opportunity to remind you how to prevent cervical cancer.

The theme of this year’s Minority Health Month is “Prevention is Power”. Considering Latinas have the second highest rate of getting and dying from cervical cancer out of all racial and ethnic groups, we are back to tell you three things you should know about cervical cancer prevention.

  1. More than half of cervical cancers occur in women who have never received a Pap test of have not been tested in the past five years. Periodic Pap tests play a huge role in preventing cervical cancer. Pap tests can catch pre-cancerous or cancerous cells when treatment is still relatively simple. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women should begin getting Pap tests at 21. While there are general guidelines about how often to get a Pap test, you can talk to your doctor about what is best for you.
  2. If you have health insurance, Pap tests are covered as a result of the Affordable Care Act. Depending on your health insurance plan, you may be able to get a Pap test at no cost to you. Check with your insurance plan to learn about what it is included in your plan.
  3. If you do not have health insurance, you may be eligible for the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) through the CDC. This CDC program provides free or low-cost mammograms or Pap tests to women who have low-income and little or no health insurance. To learn more about eligibility for this program, take a look at the criteria on the NBCCEDP website.

What is a Pap test?

By: Marcela Vargas, Project Coordinator, Institute for Hispanic Health, NCLR

Lamina 17 - patient and clinicianLast week, as part of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, we posted a blog “Three things to know about cervical cancer”. One of the best ways to prevent cervical cancer is getting regular Pap tests.  Pap tests help find abnormal cervix cells when treatment is still fairly simple.  This week, we are going to talk about what exactly happens when you get a Pap test.

Before the Pap test

There are a few things to consider when you schedule your Pap test. First, you should schedule your appointment for a day in which you will not have your period. Second, avoid using creams, gels, or other vaginal medication for two days before the test.  Finally, avoid sexual activity for two days before the test.  Following these guidelines increases the chance of accurate Pap test results.

When you arrive at the doctor’s office, a health care provider will ask you some questions about your health history.  He or she will ask questions about your general health, period, and your sexual activity. This will help them decide what kind of care is right for you.  Feel free to be as honest as you can when answering these questions; anything shared is kept between you and them.

During the Pap test

The provider will leave the room for a moment, to let you change into an examination gown.  Once you have changed, they will ask you to lie on an exam table, with a sheet covering your legs and stomach. The health care provider will use a speculum to keep the vaginal walls open. This is done so they can see the cervix. They will use a small brush to get sample cells from the cervix. When this is happening, you may feel a small scrape.  You may feel a bit uncomfortable, but this should not be painful. The sample is then placed in a tube and sent to a lab for testing. This test determines if the cells are normal or not. The whole process only takes a few minutes.

After the Pap test

A few weeks after the test, the clinic will contact you by phone or mail with your results.  If you do not receive the results and it has been three weeks since your test, call the clinic and ask for the results.  If your results are normal, you should continue getting your regular Pap tests.  You can ask your health care provider how often they recommend you get tested.  If the results are abnormal, you will be asked to return to the clinic for another test.  The clinic will explain what happens next and inform you if the second test has abnormal results.

Once you know exactly what happens during a Pap test, it is much easier to go through the process. Remember, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, Pap tests are covered by insurance companies at no cost to you.  If you still do not have insurance, the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program provides access to cervical cancer screening services.  Although this is the last week of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, you can get your Pap test at any time.  Your life is precious.  Get yourself tested!  Continue reading