January is Cervical Cancer Month
Did you know that January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month? Well, if not, you are not alone. Unfortunately, Arkansas ranks 4th in the nation for cervical cancer incidence and mortality! However, if detected early cervical cancer is both preventable and curable.
Many women are confused as to what cervical cancer actually is, how it develops, how screening is performed and just whose at risk. The cervix is the opening of the uterus and is covered by a thin layer of tissue that has cells which can divide and change in an unhealthy and rapid manner. However, it takes several years for this type of cancer to develop; therefore, the Pap test checks for abnormal changes of the cervix and allows for early treatment of these changing cells to ward off the development of cancer. The main cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus infection and other risk factors include multiple sexual partners, having a male sexual partner who has had multiple sexual partners, early age at which one first has intercourse, previous personal or family history of cervical cancer, smoking, some sexually transmitted diseases, poor immune system and having a mother who took the drug DES during pregnancy.
There are key symptoms to be aware of regarding cancer of the cervix which are abnormal bleeding or spotting such as in heavier menstrual cycles or after sex and /or watery vaginal discharge. In advanced cases, pelvic pain, difficulty urinating and swollen legs may be noticed. However, screening is very important because the purpose of cervical screenings is for women who have no symptoms.
The Pap test detects early changes and can prompt treatment before these changes become cancerous, or can find cancer in the earliest stages when it is most easily treated. The HPV test is used to test for certain infections that are known to lead to cervical changes and/or cancer.
What should women do in order to prevent this cancer? The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Cancer Society have the following recommendations for all women who have a cervix regardless of sexual history:
Screening is NOT recommended for women under 21 regardless of age of sexual initiation/ other risk factors
Cervical cancer screening should begin for all women by age 21.
Women 21-29 should have a Pap test every 3 years
Women 30-65 should have both a Pap test and an HPV test every 5 years or they may have a Pap test alone every 3 years.
Women over 65 who have had previous normal routine screenings without high risk factors are NOT recommended for screenings.
Women who have had a hysterectomy with removal of the cervix and who do not have a history of precancerous lesions or cervical cancer are NOT recommended for screening.
Women who have had the HPV vaccine should still follow the screening recommendations for their age category.
If you are having symptoms that could be cervical cancer, have had an abnormal pap smear or a diagnosis of cervical cancer in the past you may need a Pap test regardless of these guidelines! Please speak with your health care provider. Women should STILL see their provider for a yearly breast and well woman exam.
1st Choice Healthcare located in Corning, Pocahontas and Walnut Ridge has a board certified gynecologist as well as several dedicated physicians and Advanced Practice Nurses who offer affordable, quality healthcare such as preventive cervical cancer screenings and treatment for all recommended women. For more information or to schedule a screening appointment call your local clinic today.
ACOG. (2013). Cancer of the Cervix. Retrieved from: http://www.acog.org
American Cancer Society. (2013). New Screening Guidelines for Cervical Cancer. Retrieved from: http://www.american.cancer.org
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. 2012. Screening for Cervical Cancer. Retrieved from: http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org