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ACA & Women, Women and the Nation & World

Giving Women More Protections: HPV Prevention and Health Reform

Today is the fifth day we are celebrating National Women’s Health Week! Today we will discuss the importance of health reform and HPV vaccinations for women – in an effort to eliminate cervical cancer. Continue to join us this week as we celebrate National Women’s Health Week!

For women in the United States, just a half a century ago cervical cancer was more than a threat – it was the leading cause of cancer (?) deaths among women. The good news: most women in developed countries now have a significant chance of preventing cervical cancer – which is most often caused by the human papillomavirus virus (HPV).

Here are the basics for HPV/cervical cancer prevention:

  • Almost half of all sexually experienced people acquire HPV – and is the most common STI in the United States.
  • Most HPV infections clear up naturally from the body’s immune system.
  • There are 100 know strains of HPV – with HPV 16 and HPV 18 causing over 70% of cervical cancer cases. However, they can also cause other forms of cancer as well.
  • The HPV vaccine protects against both of these strains – some vaccines (Gardasil) also protect against strains that cause most cases of genital warts.
  • The vaccine does not clear up existing infections – therefore is important for women to get vaccinated before their first sexual experiences.
  • Regular PAP exams are a secondary form of prevention of cervical cancer – which can detect abnormal cell growth and eliminate the pre-cancerous cells before developing into cervical cancer.
  • The United States lags behind many developed countries in preventing cervical cancer through the HPV vaccine – and racial and ethnic disparities exist among those who do get vaccinated as well as among cases of cervical cancer incidences and deaths.

In the United States, there has been much hesitation and debate surrounding the vaccine – fearing it might promote promiscuity teens and young adults. Compared to other countries – which have vaccination rates for teens at 70% and higher – the United States is at a mere 32%.

In Wisconsin, a 2007 study reported that for every 100,000 women, roughly more than 5 develop cervical cancer – for black women, the rate is over 11. And in the United States overall, the rate of girls receiving the vaccine has declined significantly. This is partly due to the vaccine requiring three shots over a 6 month period to complete the series. According to journal by the American Cancer Society, only about 20% of girls who start the series actually complete it – that leaves 80% of girls who initiated the vaccine susceptible to HPV and possibly cervical cancer.

The good news is, despite the hefty price tag of the vaccine – around $360 for the entire series – health care reform is making it affordable for girls and women to receive this preventive treatment. Health care reform requires insurance plans to cover preventive vaccinations, including the HPV vaccine. This is especially important for teens and young women in Wisconsin, where comprehensive sex education is now optional – not- to- mention is supposed to stress abstinence only (which is proven to be less effective). Even though policymakers in the state are trying to limit the comprehensiveness of the sex education and taking away the tools and knowledge we give our students, we are happy to see health reform give us an opportunity to protect our loved ones from cervical cancer through no-cost vaccination coverage.

Join us tomorrow, for our final National Women’s Health Week blog!

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