At sixteen years old, I sat in a cold, sterile room at my gynecologist’s office. I’m the type who’s terrified of any kind of doctor visit and this was my first time at the OB/GYN. Needless to say, I was reaching the panic attack level of nervousness. I had been having irregular periods for as long as I could remember and my mom and I decided it was high time we get it checked out. My gynecologist gave an assortment of explanations for my problem, but I thought my heart would stop when she said there was a possibility of cervical cancer. I hadn’t been expecting that. She said it was a very slim chance, but we should check it out anyway. It’s better to catch that sort of thing early. Fortunately, after a bunch of tests, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. My mom and I both heaved huge sighs of relief. I was lucky. Really lucky. Still, she had put the “Big C” out there. I couldn’t get my mind off of the fact I could have been faced with cancer. Luckily, my gynecologist screened for it and probably would have caught it early.
Of course, other women are not so lucky. Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death in women. Fortunately, thanks to routine screenings and early detection, deaths due to cervical cancer have been dramatically reduced. I know because of my own scare and my condition, my gynecologist screens me every year at my regular visit. Just like with any other kind of cancer, it is early detection that saves lives. But, it doesn’t mean that the screening is cheap.
But here’s some good news! The Institute of Medicine released their recommendations for what preventive services for women should be covered by all new insurance plans. Fortunately, cervical cancer screenings were included. Still, the final decision rests in the hands of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Secretary Katherine Sebelius. If HHS chooses to accept these recommendations, then cervical cancer screenings will be covered without a co-pay. It will be a relief to many women around the country because if they receive their screening at no cost, they can also start the early treatment they need. Or, like me, they can know for sure that they do not have cancer, but continue to be tested regularly.
These recommendations put us one step closer to affordable health care for women. They were not limited to just cervical cancer screenings, but a whole list of other preventive services for women including: contraception, screening for intimate partner violence, lactation support and counseling, counseling for sexually transmitted infections, and yearly well-woman visits.
I urge you to contact Secretary Sebelius and encourage to accept the recommendations from the IOM.