Get a Pap Smear! CBS Cares Gifts Holiday Wisdom to Women

With the flame up of a menorah and the bright bow of a Christmas gift, CBS Cares aired its newest public service announcement campaign on the importance of the Pap smear test during yesterday’s 60 Minutes. Building on last year’s holiday message encouraging women to give their man the gift of a prostate exam, the 2009 holiday release presents an engaging Josh Pais initiating the compelling appeal to schedule this oft postponed exam.

This well timed emphasis on cervical cancer prevention rises above the current controversy regarding how often and to whom the test should be given and focuses on medical review. And at a time of confusion for many women about this life saving screening, it is reassuring to see Matthew Margo – who writes and executive produces these campaigns – declaring that CBS Cares stands by the pap smear!”

CBS Cares faithfully maintains its research reference base, bypassing political bias, non medical panels and pundits when fact finding each issue. For the Pap smear campaign, expert references include Dr. Isaac Schiff who is The Joe Vincent Meigs Professor of Gynecology at Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Vincent Obstetrics and Gynecology Service at Massachusetts General Hospital; and Dr. Marcela G. del Carmen, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School who completed a fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital in gynecological oncology.

Both Dr. Shiff and Dr. del Carmen strongly urge women to be vigilant and protective of their health by calling their doctors and scheduling their exam today!

Current discussion in other media includes association of the recommended reductions in mammography and Pap testing with the potential rationing of services assumed to be a cost cutting and central component of healthcare reform. Those opposed to the bill’s passage wonder if this is a sample of edicts to come, possibly negating women’s hard won healthcare allowances. Those in favor of passage feel the timing of these guideline announcements are suspiciously close to legislative vote on the divisive bill, perhaps intentionally flaming fears. But are these guidelines truly the result of current healthcare reform debate?

A bit of research determines that these “new” guidelines, i.e. that Pap testing begin within 3 years of sexual activity or age 21 (whichever comes first); and that the exam need not be annual if a woman has had three consecutive negative tests – were first proposed by both The American Cancer Society and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist in 2005 – long before health care reform became a divisive issue (Sant, Gildengorin & Saways, American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology 192:414-421, 2005 AHRQ grand HS07373). The same study noted that 60% of physicians responding to the survey questioning frequency of test administration indicated they planned to continue with annual screenings despite the new recommendations.

Additional studies show that nearly half of cervical cancers are found in women who have never had this test, about (16%) of women. Minorities are disproportionately represented in this group and among those who go on to develop cervical cancer. Clearly, this signals the need to outreach these populations more aggressively through community educational programs targeting gynecological health and public service campaigns as noted by Dr. del Carmen in her essay.

From the website component, it seems that the choice of this campaign’s focus was initiated when Matthew Margo overheard two women talking about avoiding the Pap exam while dining at a notable Manhattan restaurant. Disturbed by the conversation which seemed to focus on the discomfort of the test rather than its life saving promise, he immediately decided to place it on the CBS Cares menu of issues!

Margo’s introduction gradually engages the reader’s resolve to schedule the exam by distracting with successive descriptions of mouth watering dishes. The reader feels compelled to both call her physician and make reservations. Based on the success of Margo’s approach, perhaps providing a takeout menu from Il Mulino on exam day would increase compliance!

The encouragement of Pap smear scheduling is but one of many women’s health issues effectively targeted by CBS Cares. In 2008 alone, the CBS Television Network scheduled public service announcements worth more than 200 million. CBS Cares draws on talent from their Entertainment Division to create the campaigns which have included Postpartum Depression, Breast Cancer, Child Advocacy, Heart Disease, HIV/AIDS, Menopause, Obesity, Suicide and Violence Prevention, among others. All of these announcements and accompanying expert essays may be viewed at the CBS Cares website.

Regardless of your national healthcare view, individual ongoing responsibility for wellness is always the best path. Making decisions to schedule routine, life saving exams should and will always fall first to the woman herself. By ignoring or not availing ourselves of exams designed to maximize health and extend quality life, we undermine our own healthcare advances and inadvertently invite considered reduction of such services. Proactive approaches to health care maintenance will always trump reversal of potentially fatal consequences.

Once again, Thank you! to the team at CBS Cares for supporting women’s health and reminding us that busy days are no excuse for postponing life saving measures!

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