According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cervical cancer was the leading cause of death by cancer for women in the United States. Over the last forty years, the number of cervical cancer cases and deaths has dramatically decreased thanks to cervical cancer awareness. This January, we urge TRICARE beneficiaries to raise their own awareness about this disease and take preventive measures to safeguard against cervical cancer.
The first step in protecting yourself from cervical cancer is to schedule your well-woman visit. Cervical cancer is highly curable when detected and treated in the early stages. Cervical cancer usually doesn’t show signs or symptoms in the early stages but, as the cancer advances, some women may notice abnormal symptoms. If you experience any discomfort, it is important to visit your doctor. TRICARE covers pelvic exams and Pap smear testing for women 18 years of age or older (or younger if sexually active).
Cervical Health Awareness Month is also a chance to raise awareness about how women can protect themselves from the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease, and according to the CDC, the cause of most cervical cancers. HPV is a common virus than can be passed from one person to another during sex. There are numerous types of HPV, but certain types can cause changes in the cervix that may lead to cervical cancer. TRICARE covers two HPV vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, to protect against the types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer. HPV vaccines are given in a series of three shots. The CDC recommends the series begin between the ages of 11 and 12 for females. Females who did not receive the vaccine at the recommended age can still get the vaccine up until the age of 26. While HPV is one of the most common causes of cervical cancer, other risk factors can cause this type of cancer. In addition to having HPV, the CDC says the following risk factors are associated with cervical cancer:
Having HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or another condition that makes it hard for the body to fight off health problems
Using birth control pills for a long time (five or more years)
Giving birth to three or more children
TRICARE covers HPV testing as a cervical cancer screening when performed in conjunction with a Pap smear for women aged 30 and older. To learn more about cervical cancer facts, symptoms and preventive measures, visit the CDC’scervical cancer page. For more information on TRICARE’s coverage of the Pap test and HPV vaccines, visit ourcovered services tool.