Cervical Cancer Screening Saves Lives

Carliss Miller knows it can be difficult for patients to access essential preventative health care. That difficulty can be for a variety of reasons including financial, cultural, and other restrictive barriers.

As a lead health navigator at Charles Drew Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska, she works daily with under and uninsured patients, helping to connect them with programs that provide high-quality medical services along with assistance in covering the cost of care.

“I love helping our patients and closing care gaps,” Miller said. “When outreaching to some of our uninsured patients, I really enjoy scheduling them for a mobile mammography, and they feel so relieved that they can get it done at no cost to them.”

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and during this time of year Miller reminds patients that they should seek regular cervical cancer screenings, as well as screenings for breast and colon cancer, even if they have reservations.

CAP Foundation President Carey Z. August, MD, FCAP, concurs. “There’s never a bad time to remind someone how important preventative care and screening are. As pathologists, we oversee and diagnose the Pap tests that largely make cervical cancer a preventable disease, since we can catch it before it even begins.”

Financial assistance programs or special events like the CAP Foundation’s See, Test & Treat® program and mobile mammography services provide screenings to people in need. See, Test & Treat is a pathologist-led program that offers free cervical and breast cancer screening—among other health, social, and educational services—to medically at-risk populations across the United States.

“With See, Test & Treat, we give as many patients as we’re able access to free cancer screening, but we also want to spread the word and get people connected into regular health care and education,” Dr. August said.

Breaking Down Barriers

In September 2021, Miller worked alongside a team of volunteers including lead pathologist Ana Yuil-Valdes, MD, FCAP, to successfully host a See, Test & Treat program at Charles Drew Health Center.

Miller, who conducted recruitment, intake, and scheduling for their program, said one of the more difficult parts of her job is to ensure patients schedule follow-up appointments after an irregular Pap test or mammogram.

She explained, “Some may just fall through the cracks because they are afraid of what the results may be, or some may not be in a stable home and their contact information is not up to date and we cannot reach them—there could be many reasons as to why many of our patients get lost to follow up.” Fear, anxiety, access to care, insurance, and transportation are frequently cited barriers to seeking preventative care and follow up.

With same-day results for Pap tests and immediate scheduling for any further appointments or procedures, See, Test & Treat helps support patients who otherwise may fall through the cracks.

“Lots of past See, Test & Treat attendees are so grateful for the event because many had not had a screening in several years or for some it was their first cervical and/or breast cancer screening,” Miller said.

Customizing Follow Up

For one recent Charles Drew See, Test & Treat patient, the decision to seek cervical cancer screening may have saved her life. However, her decision was not an easy one as she feared it might put her US citizenship application in jeopardy.

Miller explained that the patient received abnormal results from a Pap test during See, Test & Treat and required follow-up care. Speaking through the patient’s son as an interpreter, Miller learned that the patient and her legal counsel feared that any assistance program used to help pay for her care might negatively impact her application for citizenship.

Stressing the importance of the patient’s health, Miller worked with the patient and partner health systems to schedule follow up that worked for the patient’s unique situation.

After a few months, a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) was used to further diagnose the issue, and the patient will be on a close watch-and-wait strategy, with a colposcopy scheduled every four months and the possibility of a hysterectomy should it be needed.

Hers may not be an ideal situation, but a free Pap test at the right time may have prevented this patient from a far worse diagnosis later.

“When we talk about preventative care, that’s exactly what we mean,” Dr. August said. “Our diagnostic tools, combined with patients’ willingness to learn about and invest in their health, can literally prevent death and serious disease.”

She added, “If you haven’t been screened for cervical cancer, or can’t remember your last screening, talk to your local health care provider. It’s an easy but important procedure that could save your life.”