Originally Published October 17, 2008 in The Queens Chronicle
Good news — since 1955 the number of deaths from cervical cancer has dropped by 74 percent. The primary reason for this is early detection. Bad news — in the borough of Queens, rates for early detection are much lower than the national average. The result is a preventable increase in deaths from cervical cancer.
The best way to prevent cervical cancer is through routine screening with a Papanicolaou test. More commonly referred to as a Pap test, Pap stain or Pap smear, it checks for changes in the cells of the cervix. A Pap test is quick, simple and virtually painless. During a routine exam, a doctor will gather a few cells from inside and around the cervix. These cells are sent to a lab for examination.
In the United States, approximately 90 percent of women are given a Pap test every 1 to 3 years. In New York City, however, Pap test screenings are far below national levels. For example, less than 70 percent of Asian women have a Pap test within the recommended period.
In Queens, the rates are even lower in some areas. The following four neighborhoods have screening rates at only 65 percent for Pap tests over the three year period:
· Long Island City/Astoria
· Ridgewood/Forest Hills
· Southwest Queens
Why is early detection so crucial for this form of cancer? During a routine visit to the gynecologist, the doctor is able to examine only about half of the cervix with traditional methods. The remainder of the cervix is above the vagina and cannot be seen in any physical examination. Without further testing, cancerous growths in the remainder of the cervix are impossible to discover. The only physical sign of cervical cancer may be vaginal bleeding. This is easily mistaken for the monthly menstruation cycle.
According to Dr. V. Ord Sarabanchong, chief of gynecology at Mount Sinai Queens, “Without a Pap Test, there is very little that can be done to check for cancerous or precancerous cells in the cervix. Routine screening is an absolute necessity for all women who are sexually active and who have not had a hysterectomy.” Early detection works — it’s a fact. The five-year relative survival rate for the earliest stage of invasive cervical cancer is 92 percent.
In many cases, a lack of insurance and fear of high costs are reasons why more women in Queens are not being tested. The truth is that there are federal and state programs that offer free screening to low-income and uninsured women. For example, programs funded by the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program offer free or low-cost Pap tests to women in need. No woman, no matter what her financial situation, need go without this life saving test.
(Editor’s note: Dr. V. Ord Sarabanchong is chief of gynecology at Mount Sinai Queens and has two private offices in Astoria. Family Health Associates at 31-60 21st Street and his Agora Plaza location at 23-18 31st Street, Suite 100. To contact him call 718-267-4333.