Cervical Cancer Detection on the Rise in Young Women

female doctor and patient

American Cancer Society researchers found that since 2010, early-stage cervical cancer diagnoses substantially increased in women ages 21 to 25. They correlate the rise with a provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26.

“These are remarkable findings showing the positive effects of ACA on cancer care and outcomes,” says Ahmedin Jemal, PhD, one of the authors of this study, which was published Nov. 24 in JAMA. Jemal is vice president of the Surveillance and Health Services Research Program at the American Cancer Society.

Higher rates of early-stage diagnoses are important because, when caught early, cervical cancer is one of the most treatable and even curable forms of cancer. Cervical cancer is primarily found as a result of an abnormal Pap test, a routine health screening for women that looks for abnormal cells on the cervix.

Using the National Cancer Data Base, researchers compared cervical diagnoses in two age groups: 21-25 and 26-34, before and after the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010. Rates of early-stage diagnoses climbed in the younger group – the one now eligible for dependent coverage under ACA – but remained flat in the older group.

“The findings are based on an observational study and we cannot rule out the effects of factors other than the ACA,” Jemal says. “However, because the shift to early stage at diagnosis occurred in young women ages 21-25 but not in women ages 26-34, this suggests the results reflect a positive effect of the Affordable Care Act.”

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