Great question, especially since January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, which focuses on issues relating to cervical cancer, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), and the importance of early detection. It’s also an ideal time to educate women about the importance of getting screened for cervical cancer/HPV.
An advocate can be a good resource to have at your side when you’re going to get screened for cervical cancer. Routine administration of Pap tests is the most common method of detecting cervical cancer early, although HPV tests are gaining popularity as well since they are able to detect high-risk HPV strains that could go on to become cancerous. Read on to find out how an advocate can help.
* A handy reminder. An advocate can remind you that you haven’t had a test done for a while. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality currently recommends that women “have a Pap smear every 1 to 3 years if you are 21 to 65 years old and have been sexually active. If you are older than 65 and recent Pap smears were normal, you do not need a Pap smear. If you have had a hysterectomy for a reason other than cancer, you do not need a Pap smear.”
* Finding a place to get tested. If you’d like to get tested by someone you already know and are comfortable with, you can get screened by your primary care physician. (Don’t currently have a doctor? Consider asking an advocacy service like Health Advocate or Health Proponent to help you find a local, in-network doctor.) If you don’t have health insurance, the National Cervical Cancer Coalition provides this list of free and low-cost Pap test resources in the United States. Just look up your state on the list, and you will see a number to call (and in some cases, a website to look at) to find out if you qualify for a free or low-cost Pap test. If you don’t have time to call your doctor to get an appointment set up or call your local free or low-cost testing site to see if you qualify, have your advocate help you take care of these things.
* Moral support. Especially if it’s your first time getting screened, you’re probably going to be nervous. Enlist an advocate–a trusted friend, family member, or other loved one–to come along to the testing appointment or clinic. And if you think you might be nervous at the test, you’re probably going to be jittery and distracted behind the wheel. Ask your advocate to drive you to get the test.
* Taking notes. Because you may be nervous about the screening, have your advocate listen and take notes while the doctor is talking. They may also be helpful by asking the doctor or counselor questions that you may be too distracted or nervous to remember to ask. You won’t get your test results the day of your test, but the doctor may give you information or answer your questions about HPV or cervical cancer.
* Helping you understand and handle test results and next steps. You may get your test results a week or two after your screening. If your test results show anything unexpected, your doctor might recommend further testing or treatment. Have your advocate there to listen and pitch in with questions about your doctor’s recommendations. And if your test results are A-OK, then you and your advocate can celebrate together!
Want to find out how a health advocate can help you? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to answer your questions in an upcoming column!