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New Year – New You!

January Is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

Many people will begin each New Year by making a resolution. As friends and family make resolutions to lose weight, exercise more or quit smoking – why not try something a little bit different? This year, schedule a Pap smear, also called a Pap test as one of your New Year’s resolutions.

There is no better time, as January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Although cervical cancer is a preventable disease, this year more than 12,000 American women will be diagnosed and nearly 4,000 will die from an advanced form of the disease. Nearly all of these cases are associated with a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV).

Regular cervical cancer screening is a crucial part of women’s health, but too often it’s overlooked. The Pap test is one of the most reliable and effective cancer screening tests available. It looks for precancerous cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated early.

Pap tests are covered for female beneficiaries beginning at age 21. The frequency of screening Pap smears is at the discretion of the beneficiary and provider; however they should be performed at least once every three years. Women under age 21 should not be screened regardless of the age of sexual initiation or other risk factors. There is no cost to you when you receive these services from an in-network provider. Your doctor can usually perform this test during your regular physical exam, so there is no waiting for a referral or a specialist. There may be costs for a Pap test if performed due to a diagnosis.

More importantly, women must remember to continue to have regular exams throughout their lives. Cervical cancer develops very slowly; half of the women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer are between 35 and 55 years of age. Almost 20 percent of women are diagnosed when they are over 65.

After your exam, it can take several weeks to receive your Pap test results. It is important to follow up with your doctor to get your results, particularly if they are abnormal, and receive any treatment that may be needed. Most women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer have not had regular Pap tests or they have not followed up on abnormal Pap tests results.

Start the New Year right – call your doctor today to discuss cervical cancer screenings or to schedule a Pap test.

One of the most important risk factors for cervical cancer is infection with a virus called HPV. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that is very common in the population; at least 50 percent of sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.

While most people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems from it, it can cause, among other things, cervical cancer.

TRICARE currently offers two levels of coverage for HPV:

  • The HPV vaccine is covered for females ages 9–26 who have not been previously vaccinated or completed the vaccine series.  
  • HPV DNA testing is a covered benefit for females age 30 and older as a cervical cancer screening when performed with a Pap test.

Talk with you doctor about HPV and cervical cancer screenings to learn more.

To learn more about the benefit coverage, visit TRICARE's Covered Services page.