Frequently, women think that they need to start seeing an OB/GYN regularly only after they become pregnant. However, women’s health involves a lot more than pregnancy care. One key purpose of seeing your women’s health provider prior to becoming pregnant is breast and cervical cancer screening – both of which are covered by the Affordable Care Act and Healthy Texas Women.
– Cervical cancer screening is done with a Pap smear and begins at age 21, regardless of age of onset of intercourse. Cervical cancer is often caused by the human papilloma virus, or HPV. Most people that have initiated sexual contact have been exposed to HPV. Additionally, HPV can be cleared and infection is not always permanent. There are many types of HPV. Low risk HPV can causes condylomas, or warts, while high risk HPV can cause cervical cancer. Fortunately, cervical cancer is usually slow-developing and screening practices have made early detection and treatment possible. Lastly, as HPV is a serious and major risk factor for cervical cancer, vaccination to prevent infection and thus cervical cancer is crucial. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends young men and women, ages 11-12 receive the HPV vaccine. This vaccine helps prevent most genital warts, most cervical cancers, and less common cancers of the anus, vagina, vulva, penis, and oropharynx.
– Breast cancer screening is also covered by the Affordable Care Act, Healthy Texas Women, and community grants in Texas. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommended initiating breast cancer screening between the ages of 40-50, depending on an individual woman’s risk factors and personal preferences. Mammograms and referrals can be made by family practice providers, however access, need for other medical services, and individual preferences may prompt women to seek out their OB/GYN. Additionally, health insurance may limit access to family practice providers, but Healthy Texas Women and community grants make access to women’s health providers easier.
Patients sometimes tell me that they put off getting a Pap smear or mammogram because they do not have insurance. However, in Texas you may qualify for a grant to get free cervical and breast cancer screening and treatment! Through screening and early treatment, we have significantly reduced the number of deaths from breast and cervical cancer. So see your health care provider today to schedule a mammogram or Pap smear and learn more.
Dr. Parin Patel, is an OB/GYN Resident Physician, University of Texas Medical Branch; the District XI Toy Advocacy Fellow and President of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) Resident Division