ATLANTA, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- There has been a significant increase in the number of young women being diagnosed with cervical cancer, likely a result of more women having health insurance because of requirements in the Affordable Care Act, according to researchers at the American Cancer Society.
With more women being screened, the number of diagnoses has increased significantly, however researchers do not believe the rising numbers are increased incidence -- more cancer is being found, and more people are being treated for it.
The ACA, passed by Congress in 2010, allows young people to stay on their parents' health insurance until age 26. Women's health experts also have recommended since 2009 that all women be screened for cervical cancer starting at age 21. These two changes make it impossible to measure increases in screenings, researchers said, but putting the numbers in the context of access to healthcare offers an explanation.
"This observation supports the idea that women who might not have been picked up with a cancer until they were older might be getting picked up earlier," said Dr. Margaret Madeleine, an HPV-related cancer epidemiologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in a press release. "That's fabulous because earlier cancers require less extensive treatment."
ACS researchers used statistics from the National Cancer Database to compare rates of cervical cancer diagnosis before and after implementation of the ACA.
The data showed diagnoses for women between ages 21 and 25 rose significantly and showed little change among women ages 26 to 34. From 2007 to 2009, 71 percent of the younger women had an early-stage diagnosis, compared to 79 percent in 2011 and 2012. The older group saw the percentage decrease from 73 to 71 percent, which researchers said was not a statistically significant shift.
When analyzed by year, researchers found 84 percent of the younger group had early diagnoses in 2011, but in 2009 only 68 percent had their cancer caught early. They also noted early-stage diagnoses dropped to 72 percent in 2012, which Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, vice president of surveillance and health services research at ACS, told the New York Times was to be expected because of the sharp increase in early diagnoses the previous year.
ACS reports 91 percent of women whose cervical cancer is caught early survive for at least five years, while as few as 16 percent of women who receive a diagnosis later in cancer progression make it that long.
"Cervical cancer is a young woman's disease," Kevin Ault, a professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center, told USA Today. "Finding this cancer earlier will give women more choices of treatment."