It goes without saying that Covid-19 has affected all of us in some way. Many of us have had family members or friends who had the virus, or perhaps you have experienced it personally. We all have been asked to make changes that reduce its ability to spread from one person to the next. Many people don't realize that one of the ways it has affected the health of our nation relates to cancer screening.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month. With the development of the Pap test, HPV testing and HPV vaccinations over the past years, cervical cancer rates have dropped significantly. In fact, the World Health Organization stated that one of its goals was the eradication of cervical cancer and it appeared to be swiftly heading down that path.
2020…enter Covid-19 and the anxiety many people felt about potential exposure in public settings. According to the American Cancer Society, during the early months of the pandemic in 2020, cervical cancer screening dropped by 85-95 percent! When available, screening is the best hope of diagnosing any cancer at an earlier stage. Early diagnosis can lead to less intensive treatment options and fewer cancer-related deaths. It is important that we do not lose the gains that have been made in the fight against cervical cancer. Healthcare facilities have worked extremely hard to provide a safe and effective environment to reduce risks of Covid-19 exposure. By mandating mask usage, limiting accompanying visitors and instituting more rigorous cleaning protocols, hospitals and clinics are prioritizing safety for patients and staff. Yes, a vaccine is now available, but if you are due for cervical cancer screening, or have a child eligible for their HPV vaccination and are considering postponing or cancelling the test, discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider. They may be able to alleviate your anxiety and keep you on a path for a healthy future. The goal of eliminating cervical cancer during this generation’s life time may still be within our reach! For more information, listen to what advice Dr. Kristina Butler, a gynecologic oncologist and co-chair of the Gynecologic Disease Group at Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, has to offer regarding cervical cancer screening.