Cervical cancer is preventable, yet there are so many Latinas diagnosed with it

Cervical cancer is preventable, yet there are so many Latinas diagnosed with it
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Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable diseases, and yet, thousands in the U.S. still lose their lives to it each year. Latinas are especially vulnerable and more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer than any other racial or ethnic group.

It is critical that we understand how policy shapes Latinas’ health care experiences and that we commit to knocking down the barriers that many face in accessing health care.

Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by certain types of the human papillomavirus virus (HPV), the most dangerous of which can be easily screened and treated. HPV is largely spread through skin-to-skin sexual contact, making it essential that people have access to barrier methods like condoms or dental dams to prevent transmission.

Vaccines have been developed to protect against the types of HPV that are most likely to cause cervical cancer. Most providers recommend that people of all genders get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12, but individuals can get the vaccine anytime from age nine to 26.

HPV vaccines are safe, FDA-approved, and supported by leading medical organizations — including American Cancer Society, American Academy of Pediatrics, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

In the 1950s, the U.S. adopted HPV screening along with Pap tests to find abnormal cells that could lead to cervical cancer. By 1992, cervical cancer incidence decreased nationwide by more than 60 percent. Planned Parenthood encourages women, transgender men, and anyone with a cervix to get routine Pap and HPV tests.

If a health care provider detects precancerous or abnormal cells, there are several treatments to remove them that could prevent cancer from developing. If a patient has already developed cervical cancer, a screening could allow them to receive an early diagnosis and get the treatment they need. When cervical cancer is detected early, individuals have a 93 percent five-year survival rate

While it is clear that screening decreases the incidence and mortality of cervical cancer, not

everyone has access to this potentially lifesaving care. One of the greatest barriers to accessing affordable, safe, and compassionate health care for Latinas is a lack of health insurance coverage.

Despite the many strides the Affordable Care Act made for access to health care, one-fifth of Latinas still lack access to health insurance, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. This means that for many Latinas — including the nearly 20 percent who live in poverty — lifesaving treatments can be costly and out of reach.

The barriers to care can be especially compounded for Latinas who have immigrated to the United States. Many live in medically underserved areas or are subject to certain restrictions, including a five-year wait to enroll in  Medicaid.

And those who are undocumented are not eligible to enroll or purchase coverage through the Affordable Care Act exchanges, which means they aren’t eligible for tax credits to help lower the cost of coverage.

Even if they are able to afford health care, despite not having coverage, the very real fear of discrimination, detention, and deportation can stop people from seeking care altogether.

As a trusted health care provider, Planned Parenthood is invested in ensuring that every person in this country has access to health care regardless of race, gender, income, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and immigration status.

We can begin this work by urging the Trump-Pence administration and Congress to improve and expand access to health care for all people, especially people of color who face systemic barriers, instead of trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and block certain providers from offering health care. It would be an important step towards reducing the health disparities holding us back in the fight against cervical cancer.

Sally J. Ortega is the lead clinician mission bay for Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest.