Latinas and Cervical Cancer: The Fight for Greater Health Care Access


This article is cross-posted from and in partnership with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Healthand is published as part of a series on cervical cancer.

See all our coverage of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month 2012 here.

This week you have been reading many perspectives on “what will it take to end cervical cancer?” as part of NLIRH’s blog carnival, ¡Acábalo Ya! Working Together to End Cervical Cancer.

All of us here at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) emphasize the importance of monitoring cervical cancer incidence rates because they serve as indicators of a community’s access to preventive health care services.

Why is this? Because no woman should be diagnosed, let alone die, of cervical cancer. For the first time, we have a comprehensive set of tools to prevent and fight the disease. Cervical cancer is highly preventable with regular Pap tests, the HPV test, and a provider’s monitoring and treatment of precancerous changes to the cells of a cervix. The HPV vaccines (both Gardasil® and Cervarix®) are also effective tools in the prevention of cervical cancer. Furthermore, the disease is also highly treatable when detected early.

Yet Latinas continue to have the highest incidence of cervical cancer among women of all ethnic/racial groups and the second highest mortality rate after African American women. In certain states, particularly along the southern border, Latinas have the highest incidence and mortality rates.

NLIRH recognizes and raises awareness of the myriad barriers Latinas face to preventing cervical cancer: lack of health insurance, stigmas around STIs and sexual health, cultural and linguistic barriers with health care systems and providers, the high cost of health care, fear associated to immigration status, racism and xenophobia.

Thus, while we serve to educate Latinas about the importance of gynecological health and demystify sexual health issues, we also will work year-round to bring down the barriers Latinas face in accessing health care.

This year, we will work to increase federal funding for Title X, the only federally funded family planning program, that provides cervical cancer screening and STI counseling to low-income women. We urge the federal government to support other programs that positively impact Latina health including Medicaid,  Community Health Center grants, funding for immunizations and school-based health programs. We will continue to advocate for access to health care for immigrants, for instance by urging Congress to lift the five-year ban for qualified legal immigrants from accessing means-tested benefits under Medicaid.

In 2012, there will be many opportunities to reduce health disparities and increase Latinas’ access to health services. Beyond January, we hope that our elected officials will not only speak about cervical cancer awareness, but work work us to ensure Latinas live cervical-cancer free.

For more information, please visit NLIRH’s resources on cervical cancer.

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To schedule an interview with contact director of communications Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.