By Elaine Herscher
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month, and LifeLong has been focusing special attention on screening for this type of cancer. Screening for breast, colorectal, and cervical cancers are three of our 10 core quality measures by which we judge the caliber of our care.
Brookside San Pablo, Ashby, and William Jenkins health centers were the top three performing sites for cervical cancer screening in the last three months of 2022.
At Jenkins, the medical assistants are keeping a sharp eye on women patients eligible for a pap smear, which is a procedure that gently removes cells from the surface of the cervix. The cells are then examined for any changes or abnormalities that could lead to cervical cancer.
“MAs will prompt the provider to offer the pap or automatically schedule them into an eligible clinic,” says Jenkins Associate Medical Director Dr. Thomas McBride. Dr. McBride says the medical assistants have been essential in this process.
Lucy Cardenas is one of the MAs whom the health center credits for keeping track of this life-saving screening for the patients.
“We emphasize the importance of the screenings, and we always remind the patients when they’re due and remind the providers to talk to them about it,” Lucy says. “We realize that many of our patients come from different countries, and we’ve noticed that they don’t know what a pap smear is.”
Many of the patients she sees are from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico. “Some are in their 30s or 40s and they’ve never had a pap smear,” Lucy says.
A woman’s first pap test should be at age 21. If that result is normal, she likely won’t have to be tested again for three years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends regular testing between the ages 30 and 65, generally every five years. After age 65, a woman’s doctor may decide she no longer needs to be screened if she’s never had an abnormal pap smear or cervical precancer in the past.
More than 14,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. But the National Cervical Cancer Coalition says the disease is preventable with screening and vaccination against HPV (human papillomavirus), a sexually transmitted disease that be a precursor to cervical cancer.
“This country gives patients a lot of resources, so we should educate the patients. Sometimes they don’t know that it can be done for free if they qualify,” Lucy says. “I’m glad to see that the effort that the providers and we put into helping patients is helping the community.”