Cervical Cancer Awareness Month Highlight: Cervical Cancer Prevention & Birth Control
In this post:
- Introduction: The Basics of Cervical Cancer
- Why are We Talking About Birth Control?
- Choosing the Right Birth Control Method for You
- Resources for Birth Control and Cervical Cancer Screening
Cervical cancer basics
In another article you can read here, we talked in-depth about cervical cancer, symptoms of cervical cancer, the human papillomavirus (HPV) and its vaccine, and cancer screening. Here’s a quick recap:
Cervical cancer is a disease where cancer cells develop in the cervix. Most cervical cancer is caused by HPV infection. Cervical cancer usually takes several years to develop from an HPV infection, and the infection can often be detected and easily treated before it turns into cancer. Screening is done through an HPV test or a pap smear in your doctor’s office. You can also help prevent HPV infection by getting the HPV vaccine. Your kids should also get the HPV vaccine to protect them and their future partners!
So why are we talking about birth control?
First, let’s start with what we mean by “birth control.” You’ve probably also heard the phrase “family planning,” or maybe the word “contraceptives.” Birth control, family planning, and contraceptives are all different words for the same thing. When we talk about birth control in this article, we mean any method of preventing pregnancy, other than abortions after pregnancy occurs. Birth control can include barrier methods like condoms or diaphragms, or hormonal methods like birth control pills, or implanted devices that can be hormonal or not hormonal, depending on your needs.
Second, each method of birth control can have important health effects for your body, like reducing symptoms of endometriosis and controlling irregular menstrual cycles that can cause immense discomfort, in addition to preventing unplanned pregnancies. They can also lower your risk for cervical or other types of cancer compared to other methods of birth control, so it’s worth talking about!
Last, birth control, just like cancer prevention, is an important part of long-term health planning for women. It’s important to know all of your options and choose the best one for you, and make sure that you are regularly screened for cervical cancer no matter which method you choose.
Choosing the right birth control method for you
There are too many different kinds of birth control to list them all specifically here, so we’ll highlight a few common types and talk about their risks and benefits.
Implantable Uterine Devices, or IUDs, are a form of long-lasting, reversible birth control. They have been proven to significantly lower rates of unplanned pregnancies, as they are less susceptible to forgetfulness or damage than either barrier methods or daily birth control pills. There are many different kinds of IUDs on the market now. Some are hormonal and others, like Paragard, are made of copper and do not contain hormones. IUDs typically last at least five years before needing replacement, but some kinds last longer. IUDs also lower your risk for cervical cancer and breast cancer compared to oral birth control pills. They do not protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like HPV.
Daily oral birth control pills are the most prevalent and often cheapest form of birth control available on the market by prescription. They are effective at preventing pregnancies when taken consistently, but they don’t protect against STIs, including the HPV vaccine.
Barrier methods such as condoms are readily available for reasonable cost over the counter at convenience stores everywhere, and are often supplied by public health institutions and health fairs for no cost. This method of birth control is very reliable when used correctly, but is susceptible to damage or failure. This is the only method of birth control that effectively prevents sexually transmitted infections, including HPV, the virus that is most commonly linked to cervical cancer. If you’re unsure of your partner’s vaccination status or STI history, it’s a good idea to use condoms even if you have an IUD or are on a birth control pill.
When choosing your method of birth control, it’s important to consider your lifestyle needs, any current sexual activity, what you know about your partner or partners’ sexual activity and history, and your own biological family’s medical history. A person in a committed relationship with a single partner who does not have any other partners and whose sexual history is known to them may have very different needs for birth control than a person who has multiple sexual partners with unknown histories. Sometimes a combination of birth control types is the best way to prevent surprises! And if you know that someone in your biological family (like a mother, aunt, or grandmother) has a history of cancer, it’s a good idea to ask what kind of cancer, and talk to your doctor about what kind of birth control is safest for you and most effective for your situation.
Resources for Birth Control and Cervical Cancer Screening
We talked about where to go for cervical cancer screening in another post, but to reiterate here, you can get screened for cervical cancer by your primary care doctor (that’s us at ICHC!) or at places like Planned Parenthood. At a federally qualified health center, or FQHC (again, that’s us at ICHC!) you can apply for a sliding fee discount based on your household size and income, and drastically reduce your cost of healthcare.
IUDs, birth control pills, and many other forms of birth control are covered by most insurance plans, including Alaska Medicaid. Your visit with an FQHC for those purposes is covered by the sliding fee, but the prescription for pills or the implantable device may not be, so you may have an out-of-pocket cost for those items. You can find our fee schedule online.
And don’t forget, you can also apply for the Alaska Breast & Cervical Screening Assistance Program (AKB&C), formerly known as Ladies First. Interior Community Health Center participates in this program and can help you find places to get screened for both breast and cervical cancer.
Schedule your cancer screening or vaccination today!
If you're already a patient with us, you can go to our patient portal to schedule online. If not, give us a call at 907-455-4567, option 1, to register and make your appointment.