Once the leading cause of death among women, cervical cancer cases are being dealt a serious blow, thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). New research suggests that a provision of the healthcare law has enabled the cancer to be found earlier in more young women. And, since the law’s passing, more are undergoing treatment earlier, as well.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Obamacare has enabled more young women to be diagnosed and treated for cervical cancer earlier. This is due to the ACA’s dependent-coverage provision, signed in Sept. 2010, which allows people to remain on their parents’ health plans until the age of 26.
Earlier diagnoses, treatments are essential
The JAMA findings are important, as healthcare providers have found that with cervical cancer, earlier detection and treatment increases the chances of survival. “Cervical cancer is a young woman’s disease,” said Kevin Ault, a professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center. “Finding this cancer earlier will give women more choices of treatment.”
Once the leading cause of women’s death, better screenings have led to dramatic decreases. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that cervical cancer currently affects 12,900 American women annually and kills about 4,100. When diagnosed early, doctors can treat it with relatively small surgeries, leaving the uterus intact and enabling childbirth. Advanced stages require more aggressive treatments, including hysterectomies (the surgical removal of the uterus), radiation and chemotherapy. But if caught early, 91 percent of women survive at least five years, compared to 16 percent with advanced cervical cancer.
Prevention available and easily accessible
Fortunately, this cancer is very preventable, thanks to two methods for protection. The first method, receiving regular screenings (or Pap tests), allows doctors to detect and remove pre-cancerous lesions. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women should receive screenings beginning at age 21. As an added benefit, the ACA requires no copays for these screenings.
The second method is receiving the human papilloma (HPV) virus. This prevents infection with HPV, which causes most cervical cancers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that girls be vaccinated at ages 11 or 12. This is when the vaccine is most effective , as it’s before people become sexually active.
But one of the most effective tools may be the ACA’s 2010 dependent-coverage provision. According to the Obama administration, the ACA is responsible for increasing coverage to 3 million additional young adults. The researchers used the hospital-based National Cancer Data Base, which captures about 70 percent of all U.S. cancer cases each year. The study’s findings included:
- Prior to the insurance expansion, 71 percent of cervical cancers among 21-25-year-olds were found early; after, this increased to 79 percent.
- After the expansion, the number of patients qualifying for less aggressive treatments increased from 26 percent to 39 percent. These treatments enable women to have children in the future.
- About 78 percent of women with private insurance coverage had their cancers treated early, compared to 67 percent without insurance and 65 percent with Medicaid coverage.
- Among 26- to 34-year-olds with unaffected coverage, no similar shift in cervical cancer diagnosis was seen.