CDC says cervical screening rates set to miss target

CDC's Deputy Principal Director Ileana Arias
CDC's Deputy Principal Director Ileana Arias

“No woman should ever die of cervical cancer,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Deputy Principal Director Ileana Arias said in a Wednesday conference call in which the government agency released 2012 findings that showed that 11.4% of women said they had not been screened for cervical cancer within the past five years. Arias said this rate means the country is on track to miss its 2020 healthy people objectives.

“We know that cervical cancer screening saves lives, but unfortunately in 2012 over eight million women between the ages of 21 and 65 didn't get this life-saving screening” she said.

Reasons for lack of screening included access issues such as transportation, lack of awareness and personal resistance to screening. Health insurance was not as much of a factor as one may expect, in that while 25% of unscreened women did not have health insurance or a regular provider, women with a regular health practitioner as well as insurance also had a screen-free rate of around 25%.

Arias said that the neglect translates to 4,000 deaths and new cervical cancer diagnoses every year, despite innovations including the human papillomavirus vaccine which can prevent most cervical cancers.

Arias said socioeconomic factors are big indicators of the likelihood of a woman being screened for cervical cancer, and said the largest screening gap is in the South, which also has a high cervical cancer death rate. Arias said one reason is the area has physical barriers which decrease the likelihood of being screened, such as limited transportation options and rural communities with few resources.

She also noted that the roll-out of the Pap smear in 1950 reduced cervical cancer deaths, but the decline has remained stagnant over the past few years. "We can do more, and we can do better than we have done," she said.